Monday, 21 May 2007

A Weekend immersed in Chemistry and Rocks

The weekend of the 19-20th of May was organised as a Chemistry, Physics and Geology weekend where students on the science courses could take their regular tutorials and also sit in on other course tutorials and taster session of courses they might wish to follow.

This sounded a great idea. I had a few ideas about what courses might interest me in the following year, but I hadn't really firmed up any ideas. Partly I wanted to see how my first 2nd level course panned out, and if the exam was OK. There was plenty of time to make plans, but this seemed like a golden opportunity to dip a toe into the water.


Saturday morning, and I turned up at the venue. It was easy to find as some of my S103 tutorials had been held there, until a rather unfortunate event when I and another student managed to get locked into the building. Suffice it to say it all ended happily and we made it home safely.
This time we were in a different part of the building, and it was much better organised. I had parked in the wrong part of the car park, but there were signs all around showing the right way to go. Entering through the doors and there was P to greet me and indicate the room I was interested in. Inside there was do-it-yourself coffee and biscuits, although we had been advised to bring our own food and drink.

I wanted first of all to sit in on a chemistry S205 tutorial. I had a quick talk with the tutor, RJ, explaining my position and he was quite happy with my participation. So I sat in on the first topic, about Organic Additions Reactions. I did wonder if I'd be able to follow any of it, but actually, although some of the concepts were new, it wasn't that difficult to keep up. I mean, I wasn't ready to do an exam on it after it had finished, but at least it wasn't all passing me by. I even asked a couple of questions and made some remarks as we got into it, which at least no one laughed at! Chemistry has always been a bit of an awkward subject for me. I'm not sure why, when I was young, Chemistry was science as far as I was concerned. You think of science and you think of colourful chemicals bubbling away over bunsen burners mostly. When I got to school and started studying it for O level, it turned out to be a lot of awkward maths. Not complicated, but it always had fractions in it, or lots of decimal places. This was before the era of calculators so it all had to be done longhand. i know molar calculations are important, but I don't think I ever really got back into it after the first terms calculation extravaganza.

My current area of interest involves a lot of molecular biology, and I find myself a little constrained about the chemistry, so it had been in the back of my mind for a while that it might not be such a bad idea to look into S205. The chemistry in S103 I found OK, after I got through the molar calculations!

Anyway, I kept up OK, and the next section after coffee was to be a more in depth discussion of molecular bonding.
It had been touched on in the previous session, and by now I was quite up for more chemistry, so I followed that session through to the end.
I had lunch with my new colleagues from the S205 course, and got to ask a few questions about the course. I also had a quick look at the books, and they seemed pretty well laid out. I thought maybe I could do this.

After lunch, back to the S205 room for the taster "Introduction to S205" with GS. He showed in a flow diagram how the course was laid out, what followed what etc. After he had finished I asked if he had any objections to me staying for the rest, which again he was happy about.

The afternoon started out with a session on benzene, how it was discovered, and how it was drawn didn't really work out in practice. The standard benzene ring is a useful fiction, but it doesn't explain the stability or the 2d shape.
A little bit on the theory of pulling electrons out of the ring and how the charge distributed itself as a result with various molecules approach it. I was fascinated. Here was a way of predicting at the atomic level what would happen, and why.
A break for coffee, and then back for more. Once we had the benzene ring down, and were clear about the simple reactions that could be done, we moved onto why certain groups attached to benzene rings where they did, and how you could work out what sort of yield of what types you might get.

Day two, wall to wall geology.

I started the day with a third level course S369 tutorial on the Cretaceous world. The tutor I talked to beforehand, and he was encouraging. I mentioned the evolution course and he said that was interesting course, but possibly a little more biology than geology. There were quite a few in the room, and we had to bring in a new table and chairs. However for me the subject just wasn't that interesting. I mean, I find most things interesting, and it was ok to listen to the details, but really I just couldn't see myself doing this course. So that was useful in a negative sort of way.

After the coffee break, where I met one of the S103 group, S, who I'd corresponded with, it was into Hot Rocks with JA.
This was a great talk given by a clear enthusiast. He had brought along a whole load of rock sample, on a trolley as there were far too many to carry. We got to see all sorts of igneous rock type from volcanic bombs, pahooeys through to your regular granites and marbles. Each sample seemed to be connected with an amusing anecdote.

Lunch, and I caught up with S, and we ate our sandwiches and discussed some bits and pieces of courses.

After lunch it was a taster session on S279 and 283. The advice was do S260 before S279, but 283 is fair game after S103. This was given by MC, who I had "met" as moderator of the S196 planets conference, so it was nice to meet him in the flesh.
Next I had planned to gatecrash the oceanography 3rd level course, but I was a bit late for this, and I didn't fancy another 3rd level geology course at this stage. So I sat in the main area, and chatted and listen to the conversation between some of the organisers.

I waited for the tea break to start with the last session, but by this time they weren't stopping for anything, so I eventually just burst into the room and joined in. It was a tutorial on thin sections rock identification. It was interesting to see what's involved, but again there wasn't much of a spark in it for me. S on the other hand had sparkling eyes and was clearly absorbing every word.


It was a well organised event, and a great chance to experience some of the courses first hand. This helps more than any course description can, seeing what's being taught, what other students think of the courses, how hard they think they are, what prerequisites you need.

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