Nerd Asphyxiation Part 1

I love planets. Yes yes, this is nothing new; but they’re the only celestial objects that are places. They’re the setting for continuing human exploration, and as Stephen Pyne writes, the planetary stage ushers in a Third Great Age of Discovery. So while all planets are fascinating and diverse new worlds—global storms on Saturn, greenhouse hell on Venus—my favorite one is by far … Earth! 🙂

Okay, when I tell people that, they’re usually like, “Okay yeah but what about OTHER planets?!” Which is a totally justified follow-up, but seriously, Earth is a pretty badass place and I have tons of Earthling-pride. (How about THAT for nationalism?! “Yeah suck it, Martians, we have oceans and atmospheres whatup noobs!”) We have an incredible diversity of biological life, ridiculously awesome plate tectonics, and global feedback loops that are as complicated as reality TV drama (which is also unique to Earth, so again, lol at the Martians). ((and because I deserve an honorary PhD in Distracted Tangential Remarks, you might cite all this recent hype about life originating on Mars blah blah and argue that we ARE the Martians… and to that, all I have to say is, “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries.”))

SO ANYWAY, you can imagine my kid-in-a-candy-store excitement this morning when I had First Day of School v2.0, and the class was Earth System Science. As soon as the prof gave us an overview of topics we would cover—Earth history and evolution, biogeochemical cycles and modeling, climate change—and explained that we would be evaluated based on a term project (no exams) and some occasional homework exercises, I kind of overloaded with the nerd awesomeness. I mean, you all know how I get about stupid things like midnight donuts and planet socks, and this was that same excitement, just an exponential amount more. About a syllabus.

And then he actually gave the LECTURE! And it was FANTASTIC! Honestly, there is just something so beautiful about looking at pictures of global air currents and global rainfall. And of course, not just looking at them but also analyzing them, aaaaw yeah. Like I was absolutely drooling science saliva (mmm yes delicious imagery). And it felt so oddly comforting seeing things in LaTeX again, haha. We went over ice cores, temperature fluctuations, ice ages and interglacial periods as related to orbital dynamics (yum), and briefly touched on atmospheric and oceanic circulation. The lecture was four hours (with breaks every 30 minutes haaaallelujah) so while this may seem like a TON to cover on the first day, it was at a very nice pace.

The professor has a background in atomic physics, and his research is on ionization from cosmic radiation and how it can affect aerosol and cloud formation. I could have just died of how cool he was (is). And of course, him lecturing with a strong Danish accent was no problem, and actually again slightly comforting (some of you remember Ma1a and ACM95c… yup I think we can handle accents). AND THEN, because some girl asked about his research, he took us down to his lab after the lecture!

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He uses these chambers and fancy machines and things to imitate a very “clean” Earth atmosphere, throws some radiation at it to ionize particles, and then measures how aerosol formation is affected. NOW IF THAT ISN’T WHAT’S UP, I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT IS.

Yup, my first class was an absolute mind-blowing success. I had another class in the afternoon, but that story will come in Part 2. And now to conclude, here is a picture of my solar-system socks (and remnants of dinner, hehe) because they are wonderful.

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