It’s been over a month since I started working in Professor Yardley’s lab; time really does fly by! The first and most important update to report is that the oven is finally working! That’s not to say it didn’t have any issues – for example, without a proper vent, the oven kept stinking up the entire lab (a facility that’s shared by 15+ other people), so I kept getting shut down in the middle of runs. But with the help of a couple very knowledgeable post-doctorate students, we were able to come up with a very creative solution – sending a dryer duct from the top of the oven (where various gases being emitted) across the ceiling and into the central air duct!
In fact, a big part of working in this research lab (I’m not sure if this is unique to my lab, or if it is a universal thing) is finding creative solutions to the various problems that arise. For me, that has meant using a vice to split wood chunks, using a porcelain mug to lift samples to the center of the oven, and using a digital camera (yay technology) to track the changes in the sample after heating. I’ve also gotten to know the Columbia facilities and the people working here a lot better, as well. I now feel as comfortable asking for help from the people working in the machine shop in Pupin Hall as I do walking over to Barnard and asking my General Chemistry lab professor (both of which I’ve done).
One of the coolest things I’ve been able to do this summer is tour the Columbia Conservation Lab in the basement of Butler Library. Alexis Hagadorn, head conservator (and Barnard alumna!) showed us samples of the Egyptian papyri whose inks we are studying, as well as tons of other cool stuff like Hebrew marriage licenses and medieval tomes. I was so impressed with Alexis’ knowledge ofnot only the artifacts’ histories, but also their chemical properties, and she definitely has me considering a double major in chemistry and art history!