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27 June, 2000

I Tried to Forget Chemistry But It Didn't Work

Today was a chemistry test for me. At least it seemed like one. You know that subject in school that just did not thrill you in the least, well that was chemistry for me. Here at Summit, everyone is a chemistry scientist of sorts. Today, I worked with Dr. Hans-Werner Jacobi from the University of Arizona. He is an atmospheric chemist. He is originally from Germany and moved to the US in November 1999. He is at Summit working by himself. I was interested in what he was doing so I asked him if I could join him. Today was the day.

Hans' research focus is on how hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and formaldehyde (HCHO) is deposited in the snow and how it moves through the upper 5 cm. Today, we concentrated our research on H2O2. It is important to understand this movement because H2O2 has similar characteristics to the formation of ozone and how each moves through the snow is of great interest to the scientists at Summit. It appears that H2O2 remains in the upper layers of the snow so testing it only required a 50cm snow pit. The first step then is to dig a shallow snow pit. Snow samples were taken every cm up to 30 cm. These samples were processed by a H202 analyzer, an instrument that detects the presence of H2O2. Now comes the chemistry.

Hans showed me how the raw data appeared on a graph. He then asked me to do calculations on the data to find how many moles each sample contained of H2O2. This was easy if you know all the conversions. I hate conversions. All the data are on EXCEL, a spreadsheet program from Microsoft. It would have been easy to write a short macro to do the calculations but no, I have to do everything the hard way. I did all the calculations by hand. Why? Because I feel that it is too easy to use a computer and by doing the calculations by hand, I needed to understand what I was doing first. The computer is a nice way to check your work. (Students take note.) Actually, I found this exercise of the mind quite invigorating. I needed a little help at first because I haven't taken a chemistry course in several years but it all came back to me quickly. The hardest part was making the chart in the EXCEL program. That was frustrating. Hans was very impressed and asked me to work with him again tomorrow after I write a lab report. Just like chemistry class, isn't it?

Now that my mind had a full set of exercises, how's the old body? No snow pits today except for the mini one I dug with Hans. My arms, but mostly my wrists, are tired from shoveling snow. The skiing has been great though. Just perfect snow and I'm finally adjusted to the altitude. I wonder how much of a benefit it will be when I return to sea level from being at 10,500 for 4 weeks? Time will tell.

Ciao, Cathi

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