Wednesday, 3 October 2012
Six scientists and a bit of plastic tube
Science and scientists are condemmed to suffer from easy cliches: studious, introspective, objective sleuths in pursuit of some incomprensible data. Perhaps scientists are good at hiding a deeper truth in case it is seen as undermining what we do. Science is fun. For example here are Dave Thomas, Scott, Pete Gilbert, Dave Cooke (you met Scott and Dave C in the 20th September entry) and, to the right, Mike Deary, plus me taking the photos, struggling with a complex problem. How do you remove a plug of mud taken from the bottom of a pond using a plastic tube core without demolishing the mud in the process? The core might reveal subtle layering from year after year as the pond silted up, each layer perhaps trapping nutrients from the water and revealing the changing enviroments at Druridge Pools, which is where these cores came from. We have technology worth tens of thousands of pounds able to detect delicate variations in the patterns of elements and molecules. If only we can get the mud out the tube. Watching half a dozen people in white lab coats fretting how to do this without the mud rocketing across the lab as if shot out of a bazooka makes for an entertaining half hour. The expertise in these pictures could explain to you how to separate out different sources of carbon buried in the mud or the process of X-ray diffraction or emergency response to a major air pollution incident. Much more challenging is to take cores whilst teetering in clinging, foetid mud, hammering the tube down without falling over and all the while fending off overly inquistive wild ponies. That needs at least three hands.