Sometimes you need to reset, to remember that you actually do enjoy your job, and take time out for inspiration. This was one of those days…
Our day started in the Bertram lab, learning about experimental techniques for measuring reactions on sea salt aerosols. Another cool experiment involved measuring how good different aerosols are at forming clouds – acting as cloud condensation nuclei. They also described some of the challenges of getting ready for a field campaign such as the CARES campaign, or the GOAMAZON campaign. These campaigns are organized years in advance and the deadlines are very strictly adhered to so once a commitment has been made by a group to participate, they absolutely must be ready on time. This often involves building and testing new instruments, I know plenty about the pressures of working to deadlines but this stuff is on another level.
Then to the Thiemens lab, led by the super cool prof Thiemens – if you ever get a chance to attend one of his talks/lectures, you won’t be disappointed. They work on very painstaking analysis of chemicals and rocks using radioactive isotope analysis. As a result they are able to work out where things came from and how long they have been around. They have made measurements in the Arctic, the Antarctic, the Himalayas, even on meteorites from Mars and moon rocks. We also heard a little about Snowball Earth, something I had never heard of but I’m adding it to my reading list.
The Prather lab was full of the most kick ass machines – several aerosol mass spectrometers (ATOFMS) which the group actually developed and built themselves. Take my word for it, this is pretty amazing. They are using them to analyse aerosols in laboratory experiments and putting them on aeroplanes to monitor the real atmosphere. They are even using one of them to look for markers in cancerous cells. I loved that they all have names, like Shirley, Jake and Elwood!
What else? What else? Oh yes, the best part (don’t tell anyone but i’m thinking of changing career and becoming a deck hand), the Scripps Institute Hydraulics lab and Pier. The lab contains a wind wave channel which is a 45 m long and 2.5 m wide channel filled with water. At one end is a giant paddle that creates waves and at the other end is a massive fan that generates the equivalent of a mini hurricane to break the waves. Luckily for us, the director of the institute was there and he cranked it up for us. As you watch through the glass sides you see wave after perfect wave breaking right in front of you. The wave channel is used to study in a controlled environment, what happens when waves breaks, from physics (how the energy of the wave is spent) to the chemistry (hooking up with UCSD chemistry scientists to measure what and how sea salt particles and gases such as carbon dioxide are exchanged with the air above the sea). They also use it to test their very expensive equipment, before unleashing it, and quite possibly losing it, in a real storm in the middle of the ocean.
Last was the Scripps pier, the perfect last stop. Equipped with an array of weather monitoring systems and boats for sampling out at sea. The icing on the cake, a leopard shark basking beneath us and a seal joining in with the surfers. Good job UCSD, but talk about setting the bar high!