Having finally finished the lab cycles, I can talk about them in a much less bitter manner. They are split into three sections and there is a lab guide flying around the internet if you wish to see what actually goes on, but I’ll just go over them briefly through the filter of my opinions.
Measurement and Uncertainty
This isn’t really a lab cycle, just an introduction to the pain of error propagation. It’s an unfortunately useful pain and actually clears up some confusion from A-level. I always asked why we calculated errors in one certain way, when more than one appeared to make sense and heard “because they are all valid, but OCR only accepts this one”.
One thing you will learn pretty quickly when you arrive at Imperial is that everybody thinks their subject is the hardest. The chemists think that their insanely long lab hours make it the hardest degree, the mechanical engineers with their scary maths worksheets think they have it the worst, the medics getting up for placements at 6am everyday have a tough go of things and I have no idea what the electrical engineers do inside the EEE building all day but the ones I know like to complain a lot about their degrees. Everyone has a tough schedule, demanding courseworks and gruelling exams as well as other projects, commitments and compulsory extras (read about the Horizons courses – extracurricular humanties, language and business courses that are compulsory in some faculties – here!
It’s official, I have now been back in London for a month. I am no longer a fresher – it usually takes me a moment or two to remember this when someone asks me what year I’m in – and I do grown up things now that I live in a flat and not halls, like pay rent, set up direct debits and clean the kitchen. Wow.
After a great (but long) summer, it’s been a little bit difficult to settle back in to Imperial life but I’m enjoying my courses so far and also the change to my timetable! Morning labs can be hard to motivate yourself before but on a non-lab day I now get a lie in rather than the continuous 9am starts that I had last year so I’m not complaining too much!
Now that I’ve finished my biochemistry and microbiology course, I’m no longer performing endless protein assays which require so much pipetting that you leave the lab with your hand seized up in to a crab claw because you’ve been holding a Gilson for two and a half hours. If you study biology, you will no doubt make acquaintances with Gilsons fairly early on in the year. This, my friends, is a Gilson pipette.
They come in a few different sizes and use very fine pipette tips to measure very small amounts of liquid (usually less than a millilitre). They have a dial on the top which you have to turn to set the volume you want to draw up and you have to depress the plunger before you put the tip into the liquid and then release it or you end up sucking stuff in to the barrel.