Thursday, September 2, 2010

Meine Arbeit ist so Geheim, daß selbst ich weiß nicht was ich tun

When I ran my professor's physical chem lab while I was going to school, this was the poster he had in the lab: My work is so secret that even I don't know what I do. Wasn't that the truth.

The professor became aware of me when my classmates had elected me to negotiate a change of test dates as I was so 'charming', which I was able to do. My attendance in his class was spotty though as I had Pork Chops attend instead to take notes.

My boyfriend Pork Chop was a math genius who took the class for the hell of it and to explain to me what I couldn't immediately grasp. Although I score high on math tests, am fairly clever, did all right  in college math through differential equations, there is a level that I or few other people just can not get. No I don't understand that P=nP equation that was the big math topic last month. I only have a crude understanding of Fermat's theorem. I only have a fuzzy concept of quantum mechanics, which was part of the course. All this math that chem majors have to take was for this class alone. The highest math needed for my job in the outside world was algebra and later, with computers, that wasn't needed.

One day my professor showed up in my analytical chemistry lab ( he must have looked up my schedule plus he was good friends with my advisor). It was a Saturday. By ones junior year, it is impossible to fit all the labs in during the week thus the Saturday class. He said he was concerned as I wasn't in his last class. There were more than 60 people in his lecture. How could he miss me? I said that I had been ill but a good friend had taken notes so I was up to speed. He invited me to go to lunch once the lab was done. At the lunch, he proposed I run his lab. Now I was lucky to get a B in his class so he didn't invite me because I was such a stellar student. Pork Chop was damn suspicious (as usual) though eventually I had my professor hire him to correct tests, usually a job for grad students. This back-fired as students would come to me to complain about my boyfriend not giving them enough credit for their answers.  (So go tell him..)What I did bring to the table were steady hands (no caffeine or Graves' disease yet) and good motor skills.Allegedly my constant smile just lit up his day. Alll.. righty. I was to prepare extremely thin films of copper by evaporating it onto slabs of sodium chloride (salt). Yes evaporating it. You wouldn't think it would be possible to turn copper into a gas (mp 1083; bp 2595) but under very low vacuum, you can boil almost anything. He then used to these films to slowly oxidize them. Why? Ich weiß nicht.

He wanted to mentor me. He thought I should go to grad school in dental materials. I knew from my father (who had him also so by now he was in his 60s) that he was also a minister ( in the Reformed Church of Latter Day Saints). A few years later, I came to him saying I needed a minister to get married. Oh but his license lapsed but not to worry, he'll get me married. So that's how we had a Mormon minister. Sadly he died of pancreatic cancer not long after Shanna was born. He did come to visit me when she was born giving me this beautiful dress for her. He had studied under  Linus Pauling at Cal Tech, probably Pauling's first grad student. Some silly chemists have 'chemistry pedigrees' tracing their mentors back to so or so. Well I have Linus Pauling by 1 degree of separation.

At UM, to get a degree in chemistry, one used to need a reading knowledge of German. I had fulfilled LSA's requirement with my high school French  and a placement test (as one of the years technically wasn't high school). I took a Scientific German class so my vocabulary is unusual: ameisesaure, ausbeute, harnstoff, stickstoff, zinn, etc.  Not too useful for ordering foods in Germany. But now, hardly anything (as opposed to most everything) is published in German so I hardly translated anything in the past 20 years.

And Pork Chops? Gone..gone ...gone. He said he'd love me forever but now, it's he'll shoot on sight.

No comments:


Blog Archive