Monday, August 24, 2015

PhD Program Day 1: "Read, I forget. Hear, I remember. Do, I understand"

First day of my PhD program in Geoscience at Temple! Woke up around 7am, had my standard breakfast of oatmeal, yogurt, tea, and an egg, and biked to campus. It's still rather warm out, so sweating is still a concern - I need to think of a better way to transport a change of clothes without them getting wrinkly.

First class was groundwater modeling, which will be largely about learning to use MODFLOW. My experience with the last ~3 years with the MDH was using analytical element method modeling (MLAEM) or stochastic modeling (Oneka). A few of my coworkers there used MODFLOW, but for some reason the analytical stuff stuck around. At times it felt very much like "Coke vs. Pepsi" wars. Either way, I think it'll be good to learn a new modeling code. Besides, many of the concepts are the same - for an initial class exercise, we needed to draw some flow-lines based on potentiometric contours both in map and cross-section view (draw from high to low head, cross potentiometric lines at ~right angles), which are things I had done numerous times as a hydrologist.

I can draw perpendicular to potentiometric lines, I swear.

I was worried being away from school for a few years would be difficult, but for this course, if anything, having 3 years of applied experience in groundwater modeling has really helped out. Terms such as "line sink" and "sensitivity analysis" weren't things I now had to learn to get a grade, but instead concepts I knew very well. While those around me might have read the chapter, and likely forgot, and might now remember them from lectures, I understood them from much doing.

Having real world experience before getting a PhD may have some real benefits

I spent the afternoon chatting with my adviser about research ideas, committee selection, an upcoming karst conference in Puerto Rico, and the anticipated road to graduation.

The next class of the day was advanced low-temperature geochemistry. I went to get some caffeine, carbs, and salt to prep my brain.


Cheese shouldn't be this color or consistency. Still, goes well with those big pretzels...

Geochem has always been one of those classes that fascinates as well as stumps me, as I always want to learn more about it but it always seems so challenging. I had taken a geochemistry class as a master's student, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I struggled with chemistry as an undergrad back in the day, and since them the subject has always terrified me a bit, although there is a very good chance that has more to do with life at the time I took the class and less to do with the material.

We went over some basics at the start of class, much of it I recall from many science classes I took before, although I remembered a surprising amount about a topic that I learned a lot about outside of school - radioactive decay.

My old roommate and I were kind of kitchen scientists, and would watch a lot of YouTube videos of people doing random science experiments at home. One of those we tried was to make a cloud chamber using an old fish tank, dry ice, and some isopropyl alcohol. In essence, we create an environment in the tank with super-saturated alcohol vapor, and when an ionizing particle enters the tank and strikes the vapor, it condenses and forms a streak. The different styles of radiation (mostly Beta particles and Gamma rays) produce different streaks - the gamma streaks and long and thin, and the Beta streaks and short and squat, which is a result of the properties of the two.

As a result of that experiment, I ended up reading a lot about radiation on my own time, for fun. I even bought a little sample of uranium ore as a source of radioactive particles to test out in the chamber.

It comes with a certificate and everything!

It's more impressive in video format, but the arrows are pointing to the ends of the particle streaks (white) where the alcohol vapor has condensed due to an ionizing particle passing through the chamber. Hey, we were detecting subatomic particles in our kitchen - pretty cool in my book.

Learn for fun! It doesn't always have to be in an academic setting


Afterward, I biked back home with my roommate/officemate (she's also in the program) to make a giant pizza, then she's been making a lemon meringue pie for the department. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it before morning >.>


"Someone broke into our house and stole the pie and left everything else untouched, I swear"

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Last day at the MDH

I've spent the last 3 weeks moving and getting settled in to Philadelphia.


All loaded up! Next stop, Philly!


New home for a while


My new neighborhood



My new place, all snazzified

I was burning up vacation time, and the other day I flew back to Minnesota to work my last few days at the Minnesota Department of Health. I worked there for just under three years, and I have to say I really did enjoy being there, and I think I'll take some great experience with me into my PhD adventure and beyond. The people were all especially great.

We all went for lunch at Black Sheep Pizza in St. Paul, one of my favorites!


I did a lot of smelting adventures with my old roommate, and I'd bring in the resulting...results. My supervisor had this t-shirt created for me as a result :D


Kurdish lemonade, from Babani's, my favorite restaurant in the Cities, is the best brainfuel for discussing research presentation collaborations. My coworker Emily agreed to help me put together a presentation for a karst conference in Puerto Rico coming up this January.


Picked up one of my favorite paintings of St. Paul to bring back to Philly.

...also, this :D People of Philly need to be introduced to hot dishes.




So long for now, Minneapolis.


Minnesota Karst: One More Time

Southeast Minnesota is one of my favorite places on this planet. It's a topographic gem within the state that many people don't seem to know about (I admit I didn't until college). It was protected from the most recent glaciation by some interesting glacier/topography interaction, so it stands out from the state's generally flat landscape with its many deep stream valleys. Considering I spent a very influential part of my life in this landscape, becoming both a geologist and a pilot, I could wax poetic on it forever.

Coming up on the end of my time in Minnesota, Crystal decided on taking a day trip down to Lanesboro, a wonderful little city down in the Root River Valley, with bike trails and tubing along limestone bluffs. There's also some amazing pie in Whalan at Aroma's Pie Shop.

I was glad to be able to make this little trip one more time before I go. It's something we've done a number of times over the last few years, both in the summer and the winter, and it's always a good time. We all ate lunch at Pedal Pusher's Cafe, then went tubing down the Root River.

You could probably guess why I love this part of the state :D

Now and Then, posing at the karst sign near of Fountain. Spring 2009 (left), summer 2015 (right).

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A month to go!

With just under a month to go until I move, I'm trying to get in as much of the Twin Cities (my home) before heading away again for a few years. I've been doing a lot of biking around where I live, and one of my favorite places to bike is the trail along the Mississippi River between the Ford Parkway Bridge and Shadow Falls. Can't beat that view!

View along the Mississippi River at Shadow Falls Park, St. Paul, Minnesota
I'm standing atop the Platteville Limestone, which forms a bit of a cap or ledge over the underlying Glenwood Shale and St. Peter Sandstone. The layers form nice blocky steps on the way down, and if you look closely, some of them have brachiopod fossils. A great description of the park can be found here by the Equatorial Minnesota blog.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cephalopod Week!

I was lacking in desk flair to share for #CephalopodWeek, so here's an arthropod instead, in its natural habitat.


While on a geology field trip through Texas and New Mexico, we stayed at Monahans Sandhills State Park one night and went hunting for scorpions. I had never seen a scorpion before, and I had no idea they fluoresced! The little ones we saw glowed a bright green under the black light. So, I decided to get this little guy at the gift shop to remember it.

Both cephalopods and arthropods have been around since the Cambrian, so are of particular interest to paleontologists. Today, most people would recognize cephalopods as octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish, and arthropods as insects, arachnids, and crustaceans.

During the Ordovician, around 480 million years ago, the most famously known cephalopods were the nautiloids:

Orthoceras BW.jpg

And of course the arthropod everyone knows and loves, the trilobite:




Tuesday, June 23, 2015

New Blog

"Come back with your PhD, or on it" - said the Minnesotan mother to her son as he left to the Temple (University).

Welcome! I decided to create this new blog in order to accomplish a few things:
  1. To share my experiences, from start to finish, of pursuing a PhD in Earth Science.
  2. To write about topics of interest to myself - namely, interesting areas of research, books, and research conferences.
  3. To keep myself motivated and provide a creative workspace for me to vent, joke, and entertain.
Some topics I'll likely blog about:
  • Science education and news
  • Geology, hydrology, and earth science
  • Geospatial information systems and remote sensing applications
  • Science literature, both journals and books
  • Life as a PhD student

A little about myself, and what I'm doing...

I'm currently a 30-year old Minnesotan guy with a background in geology - earned my Bachelors in southeast Minnesota, focusing on GIS and aviation science, and my Masters in southwest Missouri, focusing on karst hydrology and geophysics. For the last three years I've been a groundwater protection hydrologist with the Minnesota Department of Health. In a few weeks, I'll be moving to Philadelphia, where I'll be pursuing my PhD in Earth Science at Temple University, focusing again on karst hydrology.

From my time in and out of school, I've learned that I am very much an academia-shaped cog, and I'm in my element when researching and helping others learn. Professorhood is my calling, so join me as I share my adventures here.

Again, welcome!