Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Seminar in homochirality


I walked around Columbia University today and explored Alfred Lerner Hall and Butler Library. Previously, I've only been in Lerner Hall once for orientation. One whole side of the building is completely made of windows and the staircase spirals up the middle of the building and the rooms are on the edges. It was a little terrifying because I'm afraid of heights and I could also see the bottom floor from the top floor. However, the view from the top is amazing. There's also a grand piano in the lounge space but I didn't take a picture because someone was practicing on it.

Main entrance of Lerner Hall

The view from the top floor of Lerner Hall

Inside Lerner Hall

Butler Library was also spectacular. I won't go into detail about the architecture since Andrew H. already did on last year's blog, so I will talk about the atmosphere a little. The library is very peaceful and well lit but not overly bright. Everything has a sort of orange tinge from the lights so it feels like one of those old libraries we see on TV. The books are all either reference books or non-fiction/biography books. I guess all the fiction is at the Barnes and Noble/Columbia Campus Bookstore. I really like the library as there are so many places to sit down and study or read a book. I also like that Columbia University hasn't removed the old manual catalog system when they put in the computer system although I'm not sure how up to date the manual system is or if the computer system is actually missing something the manual system has. Either way, it looks really neat and it takes up a whole room, all along the wall and down the aisles. The library serves as a great place to study.

Our lecture today was something completely new to me. The idea that amino acids and sugars have a right and left side to them and that our bodies only use "left-handed" amino acids but not "right-handed" ones was really mind-blowing. The presenter was Professor Ron Breslow, practically the demigod of Chemistry. His presentation was like a mini-history lesson about homochirality and the theory of why it occurs. It's great that each seminar is presented by a professor at Columbia University or someone who actively works in a chemistry related field. It shows me the possibilities of what I could do with a chemistry background.

The lab today was more titrations. What set today apart from what I've done in AP Chem though is that we calculated the molar mass of our aspirin through titrating it. Since aspirin is a weak acid, we were able to dissolve it in water and titrate it with NaOH, which we already know is a strong base. I won't go into too much detail about it, but basically, by knowing how much NaOH it took to neutralize the aspirin, we can figure out how many moles of aspirin we started with. Since we already recorded the mass of the aspirin before dissolving it, we just divide that by the number of moles we used to get the molar mass. It wasn't complicated but it was a new method for calculating molar mass that I never used before, it was really fun.



Don Gosney said...


Great photos and narrative. That photo of the card catalog is awesome and scary at the same time. ON the one hand I’m thinking about the cost for all of those file drawers and cards and on the other I’m thinking about the people who had to fill out all of those cards. I know they didn’t do it all at once but it’s still a lot of work. Almost like going through the ILC blogs.

You did a good job of taking a technical subject and making it understand able. It’s no wonder that Sofia writes so many nice things about you and the way you help her to understand some of this stuff.

Madeline Kronenberg said...


Don is quite correct -- you are a natural at explaining techical material in an easy to understand way -- and even call it "really fun" -- how wonderful is that. Sounds like you've found your calling.

I loved the Butler Library pictures -- I felt like I was right there and inspired to study.

Thanks for the post. Have a good time at UPENN -- another place with a good library and science program.

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