Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Alex Beach Introductory Post

Good Morning everyone. There is a lot of pressure on me for posting first but I guess that's what I get for checking email at 8am. I apologize in advance if anyone uses my format and gets a bad grade.

My name is Alex Beach. I grew up in the City of Ithaca in upstate New York. Ithaca is located in the Finger Lakes region of NY which I find somewhat relevant to our study of the Harbor Islands in that the same general forces shaped both geologic features. If you are really bored at work reading this post feel free to check out this brief summary of the Finger Lakes and why "Ithaca is Gorges" from the Paleontological Research Institution. Growing up in such a geologically unique area, I quickly fostered a sense of excitement and curiosity about nature. You would too if grew up ten minutes from the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies, and I'm not talking about Niagara. However, I did not step foot in the ocean until a family vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina when I was eleven (unless you count a 7 year old me who naively thought that Cayuga Lake was the Atlantic and that I could see Africa across on the opposite shore).

I graduated from Boston University in 2009 with a degree in Science Education. In five weeks I will be starting the masters in Earth Science program at the University of New Hampshire. My research topics will include mechanisms for rapid climate change, determining ancient ocean temperatures by analyzing sediments, and some advocacy work with public policy groups such as Carbon Solutions New England. Currently I am work for BU and since they let me take free classes I figured "why not?". As a future educator and advocate for science literacy I feel that it is very important to see science in action, out in the field. It's one thing to talk about the the geologic features or the ecology of an area in the classroom, and quite another to actually go out and experience those things for yourself. And frankly, spending a week exploring the islands in the summer is much more enticing than sitting in my office.

As for our first field trip/assignment: I witnessed the water in the sink spinning counterclockwise down the drain and the water in the toilet spinning clockwise down the drain. The fact that the water spun in opposite directions is not an issue. I am sure that at BU alone we could find sinks and toilets that spun in both directions. Same goes for those in Australia. The popular myth about this fact is that the Coriolis Effect would cause all the water in the Northern Hemisphere to spin clockwise and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. This is a pretty good hypothesis for someone first exploring this issue. You take a proven physical phenomenon and apply it to the situation in question to see if it can verify your hypothesis. This is the scientific method in a nutshell. It is also perfectly acceptable science when your original hypothesis proves to be untrue, as in our case. The Coriolis Effect arises because different points on the surface of the Earth are traveling at different speeds through space. If you were to stand on the North pole (rotational, not magnetic) you would spin about your axis but not move laterally. Contrast that to standing on the equator where you would need to travel the entire circumference of the planet in 24 hours. The Coriolis Effect becomes more pronounced over large distances (like pole to equator) and negligible over incredibly short distances (like the diameter of a toilet bowl). The direction that water is introduced to a sink/toilet and the geometry of the container will determine which direction it flows, regardless of position on the planet.

Why the two groups saw opposite results is a bit more puzzling. The only reason I can think of that we as a class were not as observant as we should have been and Professor Berman was doing this to make a point. I was one of the closest people to the sink and could not tell which direction the water was spinning. Professor Berman said that it was spinning counterclockwise and we all agreed, even though most (if not all of us) could not see for ourselves. Perhaps he said the opposite for the first group and that is why they all believed it was spinning in the other direction. While this conspiracy can be viewed as a veiled demonstration of some Milgram Experiment principles (i.e. blindly listening to authority) and a lesson to be more observant in this course, it would also serve as a detriment to the team trust and group responsibility values that Professor Berman stressed. Because of this conflict I am left without a clear answer to this problem and await my classmates' posts to shed more light on the situation.

Until Friday.

-Alex Beach

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