Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Alissa Frame Intro

I was born in Fairfax, Virginia, 25 glorious years ago. My parents decided to move to Marblehead when I was five years old, and I joined the “just outside Boston” club. My life since then has been geared towards basic science and the great outdoors, and right now I’m trying to find a balance between the two. I studied neuroscience at Middlebury College and woke up one day towards the end of senior year realizing that I had missed the rest of what Midd, and Vermont in general, had to offer: the outdoors. With a whopping two nights of “outdoors experience”, I decided to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. I started in Maine in June of ’07 (at left, my parents and I are on the first summit) and walked out of the woods in Georgia with a deeper appreciation for the natural world and a new sense of responsibility for it. The following summer, I experienced the woods in a new way: as a steward, rather than a recreational user. As a backcountry caretaker with the Appalachian Mountain Club, I was part of a large effort to balance preservation and recreation. I found myself missing science, though, and when the season ended I took the first remotely science-y job I was offered. I’ve been a clinical research assistant in a cardiology lab at Boston Medical Center for almost two years now, and although the focus of the lab still fails to thrill me, the research process does. It’s also given me the opportunity to take courses in environmental toxicology, plant biology, environmental ethics and land management, environmental geology, and finally, this course (thanks boss!). I’ve finally figured out that I don’t have to choose between science and the natural world- and that, in combining the two, I can fulfill my sense of environmental ethics and responsibility. With luck, I’ll be studying natural resources at UVM and environmental law and policy at Vermont Law School next fall.

Why the ocean? Before college, I didn’t spend more than a week more than two miles from the ocean. We visited my grandparents in Cataumet, MA (below is the view from their home) every weekend- a chore in my earlier years, but now I miss it. Vacations were spent on the Cape or in Barnegat Light, New Jersey, and my childhood home is less than a mile from the beach. I grew up in and on the water. One of my earliest memories of the ocean is watching my grandmother- then “Ma Benthos” at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute- toss a beer bottle off the side of her Tartan 35. My mother gasped indignantly and muttered something about a trash can. My grandmother shrugged her shoulders and muttered something about creating a marine microenvironment. She recently passed away, and I guess I’m taking this class partly for my own enjoyment and partly to honor her. I didn’t pay much attention when she talked about the ocean and her work at WHOI, where she discovered and classified hundreds of benthic organisms. Her enthusiasm came through, though, and she is the reason I came to love science. I can’t think of a better way to honor her memory than to finally learn something about the ocean.

The bathroom experiment: I was standing in the back and couldn’t see the draining sink clearly, but I saw Prof. Berman put his hand over the drain, fill the sink and allow the water to become still, and remove his hand. I believed the rest of the group when they said it moved counterclockwise. Since the other half of the class had a different experience (the water moved clockwise) and Prof. Berman insisted there was no sleight of hand, I’m guessing the hemisphere in which a sink is located has nothing to do with the direction it moves as it drains. Instead, it probably depends on factors such as the shape of the sink, whether or not the water is already moving when it drains, and in this case, the movement of Prof. Berman’s hand as he removed it from the water. I had a good view of the toilet, and it was clear that the water spiraled clockwise. Equally clear was the jet of water that was forced in the counterclockwise direction. I would guess that even if draining water moves in opposite directions in the two hemispheres, the force causing that distinction would easily be overcome by the toilet water jet. In the toilet, then, the water moved counterclockwise because of the direction of the jet: if the direction of the jet was changed, so would the direction of the draining water.

Based on our experiment, draining water shouldn’t move differently in the northern and southern hemispheres. Instead, the direction should depend on various factors involving the basin (shape, and the way that the plug is removed) and the water in it (whether or not it is already moving, and in what direction).

The sources I checked on the internet confirmed my thoughts. To be honest, I steered away from anything that looked like a legitimate source. If reputable sources are wasting time looking at how water drains in sinks and toilets worldwide, I don’t care to know about it. Based on previous posts, though, it appears they have, and they agree with Wikipedia and Wikipedia, like Snopes, argues that although the Coriolis effect does exist, it has a smaller effect on water draining from sinks and toilets than, say, the shape of the bowl, temperature differentials within the water, and the direction in which water was added to the bowl. Snopes argues that the Coriolis effect has no effect on water draining from basins as small as sinks and toilets. Wikipedia, however, cites an article in Nature that demonstrated the Coriolis effect in a six foot tank in a temperature controlled room in Boston. The tank was filled with 300 gallons of water, let rest for 24 hours, and drained. The water consistently drained in a counter-clockwise direction. Wikipedia- and theoretically the article- takes this as evidence of the Coriolis effect, but no similar experiment was performed in the Southern hemisphere, or with differently shaped or sized basins. Even if we assume that the evidence does, in fact, prove that the Coriolis effect applies to small basins, the conditions under which the experiment occurred- water resting 24 hours in a temperature-controlled environment- will virtually never occur in the real world. In real world toilets, water will drain in the direction that the jet propels it, and in real world sinks, water will drain “randomly” from sinks, depending on factors listed above.

Alissa Frame

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