Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Presentation by Garard Parkin


Today for our first lab, we were supercooling acetic acid (95%). It was very exciting because we used this temperature gauge called a thermocouple that senses the temperature and sends it into a program called MicroLab. Microlab then reads the data and plots the points on a graph versus time. It sounds confusing, but it's actually really simple. The lab was especially invigorating because we cooled acetic acid to below freezing point and then watched the temperature shoot back up to freezing temperature (a liquid's temperature rises back up to the freezing temperature before it starts to solidify) on the graph that MicroLab plotted. I had used LoggerPro before for data collection, but it is nowhere near as sophisticated as MicroLab. The MicroLab interface has ports for everything: pH, temperature, pressure, light, etc. It was a brand new experience.

After our lab, Professor Avila had planned a luncheon where we would meet and talk to a graduate student. Every graduate student was working in a lab and had specialized in a certain type of chemistry. The graduate student that I had lunch with specialized in organic chemistry and even took us down to the lab where she worked! We were also able to go down to Columbia University's server room. I had never seen a server room before; it was just shelves and shelves of servers with wires everywhere. It was also very hot.

When we returned to the Lecture Hall, we had post-lab discussion about what we did in the lab earlier. Following that, there was a presentation from Professor Gerard Parkin. He's currently doing research at Columbia University and his presentation was about his discovery involving Bond Stretch Isomerism. Bond Stretch Isomerism is the idea that a compound can exist as the exact same structure except that the length between the bonds of the atoms/molecules differ. I actually found this to be immensely fascinating.

Even though I knew nothing about the topic when Professor Parkin started his presentation, I learned a lot when he finished. It felt like an adventure because Professor Parkin started with a very simple introduction about bond stretch isomerism and from there moved on to history and the concept behind it. However, Professor Parkin ultimately disproved the theory of bond stretch isomerism at the end of his presentation! He basically spent an hour teaching us something completely new and then told us it was wrong! I was astonished.

Although there's a lot of theory behind what Professor Parkin had just presented, I really enjoyed the fact that he was able to simplify a complex idea to allow us to understand it. I really learned a lot in only an hour!


1 comment:

Don Gosney said...


I'm always amused when listening to young people like yourself who's eyes are opened to something brand new to them when they have examples of these things all around them but just never knew about them.

This time I'm referring to the thermocouples you mentioned. In your own home you have a thermocouple hooked up to your hot water heater, another hooked up to your thermostat for your heater and air conditioner, one in your refrigerator, another in your oven and several in your car. There's never been a cause or a reason for you to be aware of them, though, and so they've gone completely unnoticed by you.

What you won't find in normal situations is MicroLab. That's kind of cool. Do you think that maybe they sell those at Fry's or Best Buy so we can play with one around the house?

The lunch sounded like fun. either all of our people shared their lunch with the same chemist or they had to have had a bunch of organic chemists with nothing to do that day. It seems that you all ate with an organic chemist.

I can imagine your feelings after having spent an hour taking copious notes during Dr. Perkin's lecture only to realize afterwards that they were virtually useless. What you described is an interesting concept. I remember reading some time back about a Nobel Prize that had been awarded in either Chemistry or Physics that several decades later was found to have been based on incorrect assumptions and inaccurate conclusions. It was much too late to take back the Prize but it just goes to show that the whole scientific world can be fooled sometimes. This is one of the reasons why Nobel Prizes in the sciences are usually awarded for discoveries made several decades before. They want to give the scientific world every opportunity to disprove them before they're made fools of again.

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