First day!

by e_e_evans PhD student

Yesterday I drove 260 miles from just outside Lancaster to Swansea.

I stopped off at my sister’s for lunch, was constantly blinded by the sun as I drove south, drove through so many roadworks I actually lost count, saw a Red Kite hovering by the side of the road near the Black Mountain, got stuck in traffic in Swansea and only took a wrong turn three times (one of which was just to pull over to check the map) and I didn’t get lost.

I also arrived at the B&B, which is where I’m hanging my hat for now, at half 6 then proceeded to go straight out again to meet my engineering supervisor and his group to attend a Science Cafe talk on image processing. Spoilers: it blew my mind! Hopefully I’ll do some digging and give you an overview at a later date.

But what about today? you (probably) ask! Well, (cue blues-y beats)

Oh I woke up this morning, got myself out of bed,
Drove my car to some free parking,
And ate some jam and toasted bread,
Walked down to the Uni, yeah, I got there by 10,
Signed some paperwork and stuff…. oh!
And then!
I signed some paperwork and stuff… Oooohhhhh,
And then….

(That’s quite enough for that).

So yes, after doing admin I got assigned a desk (which for me is a really big deal. A desk! All of my own! In an office! With other scientists!) But if you hear a news report of attempted assault that’s because I’ve actually taken a desk that wasn’t necessarily, strictly free. So to avoid meeting the current not-quite-occupant I went to sort my campus card and mill around Engineering.

My fellow XRCT buffs showed me some of their work. This caused me to geek out a lot for two reasons, firstly one of my colleagues is studying natural structures such as skeletons and shells by creating 3D scans and then also 3D printing the scanned images. The result? Awesome interlocking 3D printer models!

I was very excited to find that she had a hero shrew in a jar waiting to be scanned. What’s that? You’ve never seen a hero shrew?… then allow me to allow The Brianscoop to elucidate:

So, pretty cool? (Even if the one in the lab was in formaldehyde). Here’s an article about the new species of Hero Shrew complete with x-rays of the spines (yes it’s the Daily Fail, no I don’t care, its facts are ok).

And reason two… liquid F-ing nitrogen!!! (where “F” denotes the phrase “flipping freezingly fantastic”) Ahem…
So my colleague is also working on samples that have to be kept frozen, however, frozen things melt when put into, well, anywhere above zero Celsius. So she had an idea and with the help of another engineer post-grad they went and got some liquid nitrogen.

Let’s be clear, the epitome of science in the childish corner of my brain is a person in a lab coat handling a smoking sample of something. The non-childish areas of my brain, on the other hand, just think that the physics of liquid nitrogen is really amazing (i.e. how they compress and store it, the hoarfrost you get on the pipes, how the nitrogen basically boils as it hits the room temperature thermos and so on).

So after we had a go at freezing the sample we had to get rid of the nitrogen. Now, those among you who did a science GCSE or your country’s equivalent know that the air is over 70% nitrogen so there’s no harm in just letting it boil away slowly in a ventilated room. Or you can have some fun like this; watch between 16 seconds and 2 minutes:

For those who watched the whole video, no you couldn’t pay me to stick my hand in it like that and I don’t think either of my colleagues would either! Safety gear was worn when they were handing the nitrogen (thick gloves, long sleaves/lab coat and a face shield).

The Liedenfrost effect is one of those excellent experiments that I’ve been dying to see in person and now I have! On my first day!

Funnily enough I have done something that humans would recognise as work by getting some books out and being confused by the library system (Dewey decimal all is forgiven! This alphabetical system makes as much sense as watching snooker in black and white).

So, the net profit of the day is I can’t wait for my second day in the office.

For more about the lab I’m going to be working in check out my engineering supervisor’s website here.