I think I've mentioned once or twice that one of the great things about going to a college with no graduate student population is that students have ample opportunities to do research with professors. In my (completely random) estimation, almost every chemistry student does research with a professor at some point, either during the school year, or for Winter Term, or over the summer. It's a really great way to hone lab skills and really learn how to use the instruments that the department owns.
I've been doing research with Professor Craig since September, looking at little molecules with things like fluorine stuck on them. If you want to actually read about details, go here. For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to talk more about the day-to-day things that I do.
For the past several weeks we've been running GC's to separate a product that's been synthesized from the other major product of the synthesis reaction. (Again, I realize I'm being vague.) To do this, I siphon off a few milimoles of the mixture, using a lot of liquid nitrogen and a pretty intimidating vacuum system, bring it over to the GC, and shoot it through. Basically. It takes a bit longer than that. In about four and a half hours, we get six of these cycles done.
This sounds like a lot of repetitions, but I'm a dancer, and I understand the importance of repetition. I have gotten really, really comfortable with the vacuum system. I check to make sure I'm not accidentally pumping important stuff away, I turn stopcocks, I pour liquid nitrogen all over the place without fear of freezing my hands off. I've even learned t understand the mysterious clicks of the vacuum pump. Sometimes it clicks to say it has a good vacuum, and sometimes it clicks to say that it doesn't, and now I can tell the difference.
Basically, I've gotten more comfortable working in the lab through this experience than through any of the labs associated with my classes. I spent Friday afternoon happily going about my freezing and pumping and thawing and recording pressures, and I even got a strange sense of contentment from it. Maybe that was just because my exams were done and I knew I'd be home soon, but maybe not.