Oberlin Blogs

# Thermo, thermo, thermo, thermo, Mahler, thermo...

October 1, 2010

Zoe McLaughlin ’11

Yesterday evening, I went to see the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra play Mahler. At that point, I'd been doing only thermodynamics for at least seventy-two hours. Oh, I'd also gone to class and eaten some food (can we all say stress eating?) and slept a little, but mostly it had been thermo.

First, I had a large, scary lab report to write. This necessitate things like me relearning how to write equations in Microsoft Word (I hazily remember doing that once before, in tenth grade) and me playing with fonts and other formatting options as a way to take a break from propagating my error for pages and pages (and there was a lot of error).

I also had this week's lab to prep for. Thankfully, it was an easy one. My lab partner and I really just had to sit there and stare at a thermometer for three hours and occasionally write numbers down. But to get to that point, I still had to read the lab manual, go in early and turn the machine on, and then say a prayer hoping I'd done everything right.

Then it was time to work on the thermo problem set. I'm sure the problem sets are quite reasonable, but I struggle with every one, in part because (as I've said before) I've never taken a multivariable calculus class, and in part because I've never been good at thermodynamics. Now that I actually think about it, I clearly remember memorizing everything you'd want to know about thermodynamics for general chemistry back when I was taking general chemistry. Back then, I had no idea what was going on, which isn't helping me now. Consequently, the problem sets take me a long time and include long periods of confusion before I get anything done.

Luckily, throughout this whole seventy-two hour process, I was accompanied by my lab partner from inorganic last year, who is now taking thermo with me. Together, we sat and typed up our separate lab reports, occasionally exclaiming over how incredibly bad our data was. Together, we ate rice at one in the morning. Together, we sat and tried to understand entropy. Together, we went crazier and crazier from lack of sleep.

And together we also went to that Mahler concert. It was her idea. I'd said several times that I wasn't going, but when it was time to leave, I was feeling confident enough about the problem set that I said I would go with her.

We made it in time for intermission and found some very nice seats in the balcony. As soon as we sat down, I was struck by the overwhelming need to pull out my thermo textbook and continue working. As I said, I'd been doing this for about seventy hours by that time, and it had become something of a habit. In every spare moment, work on thermo. In every lull in the conversation, work on thermo.

My ex-lab partner instructed me not to work on the problem set during the concert, and eventually my withdrawal jitters subsided and I was able to sit back and enjoy the concert.

Then after that, it was back to thermo. As it turned out, I was not as far along in the problem set as I thought, and it was another three hours before I felt confident enough to leave the Science Center and consider sleeping.

And now what am I going to do? Probably more thermo. I have an exam next week.

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