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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Uncommon commonalities

Monday came too quickly this week after studying pretty much all weekend long. My first homework of the semester was due on Monday - some practice questions for extra credit in Biology. They were over Dimensional Analysis, a way of converting from one unit to another that involves the metric system. I love it and wish I'd known about it in high school. It's entirely possible I was taught it then. :D

As I arrived on campus and saw stressed classmates in the study and help areas, it became clear that there are different levels of students. It seems that most of them hadn't given themselves enough time to do the work, and didn't understand what they were doing. I was really surprised that nearly everyone I spoke to said they only did 3 or 4 of the 12-problem assignment. And then as we were about to turn in the work, I saw people hurriedly copying things they forgot to do because they hadn't read the instructions well (show work in pencil on another sheet of paper) when the teacher re-iterated them just before turn-in. In contrast, I felt like a geek for being prepared - 3 pages of clearly shown work on 12 problems, answers boxed, etc, ready to go when I walked in. I also felt smart. And I'm just surprised at the seeming general level of unpreparedness. Maybe I really am from another planet. Or, as my grandmother often asserts - a genius. They really made me look like a genius.

All that aside, I really like the Biology class a lot. The teacher is great - she has a calendar and tells us exactly all the points and grading system and so on which removes all the administrative questions and wondering. She also has a great way of understanding the material and relating that to us in examples, interactive questions, and so on. The lab was a ton of fun even though it was basically working through measurement problems (volume, density, length, weight, etc). Biology is great. I'm learning a lot of really interesting and detailed things that clarify things I thought I knew, but have an inflection I'd not understood before. School rocks.

Chemistry is going to be interesting but it's moving at a slower pace. Tonight, the 3rd night of class we are getting into Atoms. The teacher is more ambiguous about the tests and has an interesting Scottish/Hindu/Asian accent I can't place which sometimes makes it hard to hear terms he's using. "Eelehmens" = "Element". But it's not a huge obstacle. He clearly knows what he's talking about, and he also is teaching me many things about chemistry I sort of knew about that now is becoming more concrete.

Overall, I have the theme of nutrition in mind, though, and I take examples from chemistry and make them nutritious. For example, you can determine units of energy to see how many kilojoules make a 100-watt light bulb run for x hours. I determined you can run a 100-watt lightbulb for 640 hours off of one Big Mac. Converting from kcals to joules, of course. The special sauce = calories. Hehe.

I'm also paying a lot of attention to the assumptions of things as we go through them. I want to make sure that the chemistry I learn and the biology I learn have a meaningful impact on the ultimate education for nutrition - that the reasons for science don't eclipse the benefits for humans. I don't want to get so lost in the science that I forget that humans are really who benefit or lose. In the business world I've seen technology and greed usurp the individual too often. Just because we can figure out how to remove diseases from food through adding chemicals and changing properties doesn't mean we've created a great thing.

So my break is over. It's been a break-neck speed week so far and I am ready to try for some sleep - it's a balance of staving off cedar allergies that are primed to attack when I lay down and getting my mind to slow down.

P.S. Don't heat up hydrogen peroxide. I learned today it explodes spectacularly, despite having only one more oxygen molecule than water (H202 vs H20).

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