Saturday, March 3, 2012

AJAS2012 - Touring Chemistry Labs at UBC, Vancouver

by Justin 

As winners of 2011 Texas Junior Academy of Science Competitions, I and five other fellow students from my school district went to Vancouver to present our research projects at the American Junior Academy of Science (AJAS) symposium, held from February 15th to the 19th.

The AJAS symposium runs in tandem with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference, which real scientists attend. Thus many events were coordinated between the two groups in order for us, as student delegates, to mingle with the scientists and experience the real world of science. 

Following the usual first day pleasantries of registration, we awoke the second day to a cloudy and slightly drizzling day. Not exactly the weather you expect out of Vancouver, but then again it was the middle of winter. We boarded the buses from our hotel to the University of British Colombia, one of the largest and most prestigious schools in Canada. Following breakfast, we divided into tour groups, with my group going to the UBC Chemistry Department.

The tour began with presentations by several graduate students working in various labs in the department.  Despite typically being drowsy in the mornings, I found myself intently listening to what they had to say, marveling at the different applications of chemistry. The broad applications of chemistry astounded me, from working with organic solar cells to managing the shelf life of blood donations. I always knew that chemistry could be applied into a very wide range of fields, but I never imagined it to this extent!

Following the graduate student presentations, we toured some of the labs in the chemistry department. The types of labs in the departments ranged in a great number of specific fields, from observing and synthesizing crystal lattice structures to biochemistry and NMR spectroscopy. The most interesting part of the tour was visiting the resident glass blower of the department. He showed us the various tools he used to repair broken lab equipment and to make brand new equipment, and let us blow glass bubbles! He melted the tip of a glass tube, and one by one we blew through the tube to form a bubble at the molten end of the tube, expanding and expanding until it popped!

After the tours, we were given the treat of liquid nitrogen ice cream! The “cream” was mixed together, and then liquid nitrogen was poured into the mix! The liquid nitrogen was so cold that it instantly froze the "cream" into ice cream. We were also given color changing pencils that change color with the addition or loss of heat.

A day of touring the labs of UBC was really fun, and broaden perspective of the sciences. The real reason we're here starts tomorrow with the symposium.

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