Behind the safety googles

“CE1-03-2 Foundation Laboratory (2015-2016)”

This is the fancy name of the lab sessions, something which we only started in the spring term, but I can understand now why… Even though we only have 2 sessions in approx. every two weeks, it requires a lot of preparation and work afterwards. In short, it is extremely time-consuming.

In my high school we didn’t have lab sessions, because my school didn’t have a lab. I did only a few experiments before uni (usually in summer camps or in other schools) but I think we can easily say I had no experience in labs. Literally, none. I didn’t even know what a lab book is…

So, that’s how I started my first year. I was a bit worried that I would be the one who spills sulphuric acid on the table or accidentally drinks the hydrochloric acid. None of these have happened (yet) but I’m still not really confident, so I usually ask about a thousand questions before doing anything. Fortunately the GTAs (graduate teaching assistants) are very helpful, and answer even such silly questions like “where is the distilled water” or “how to use the distilled water flask” or “why is the distilled water flask not working” or “how to refill a distilled water flask” (yes, they all happened…).

I was super-excited before my first lab session. I’ve seen the labs on the admission day (it’s part of the “let’s look around” tour) but this was the first time I could finally go in as an “Imperial student”. And then, I got flu… I missed the first two lab sessions, all the introduction, the “where is what”, everything. That’s why I still don’t know how to refill a distilled water flask…

Everyone has a lab partner, because it is more fun to struggle with the Ubbelohde Viscometer if you have someone to complain to… My lab partner is a very tolerant guy, he answers all my questions like “how am I supposed to wash up a one-meter long burette” or “does your graph also look like a chipped mug” and when I can’t refill the distilled water flask for the third time, he simply refills it for me! (If you’re reading it: Thanks! 🙂 🙂 )

The assessments are a bit strange… From the first two experiments, we had to make a poster. They said we shouldn’t spend too much time on it, because it only counts 10% to the overall lab mark. They recommended 6 hours, I spent 12 hours on it… It’s not that much, right? 😀 I tried to make something unique, something new. Well, ours was definitely very exceptional, according to the markers it had “nice font and attempt to do something different”.

For the remaining five experiments, we have to gradually do more and more. For the third experiment, we only had to submit the data collection, which is basically the raw data we wrote down during the measurements. However, for the fourth, we had to do the data collection and the data analysis. 15row x 100column Excel tables, 4 graphs, 8 pages… Sounds fun, right?

First version... It seems a bit strange, don't you think?
First version… It seems a bit strange, don’t you think?
Second version, after spending half an hour checking every line of calculations...
Second version, after spending half an hour checking every line of calculations…

For the next experiment, we will have to do the conclusion, and then the evaluation. Whatever those might mean…

Let’s talk a little bit about the experiments themselves: in the first year we do seven experiments (and a rig building, but I have absolutely no idea what that will be about…). The “Great Seven” are Conduction, Flow lines, Bernoulli’s principle, Solutions & Reactions, Critical Point, Viscosity and Complexometry. Having missed the first two sessions, I’ve only done the Viscosity and the Complexometry so far.

The former was about three different types of viscometers: falling ball, Ubbelohde and rotational. With the first two we had to measure water on different temperatures. (Let me tell you a secret: the Ubbelohde is terribly boring. You do 3 measurements, then wait 15 minutes to warm up the water for the next temperature…) With the rotational viscometer, we had to measure such funny things like ketchup, honey and shower gel. I got the honey… There is only one trick here: you cannot eat it 🙂

The Complexometry was several titrations about calcium: standard calcium solution, milk and calcium tablets. My favourite things about titration are definitely the wonderful colours:

... and after!
… and after!
And - of course - the inevitable selfie :)
And – of course – the inevitable selfie 🙂

And what is the most surprising in the lab sessions so far? The enormous amount of waste we produce… I still have these instincts from high school that distilled water is a rare, precious thing and safety gloves need to be reused infinitely many times. But here we wash up with distilled water and use a new pair of safety gloves nearly every hour… I think I’ll never get used to it…

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