Science Diary: How Toxins Move - Hours in the Library: The Pulse of the Planet daily radio program offers free legal online mp3 downloads, exploring the world of sound in nature, culture and science, with audio adventures, world music, extraordinary sound portraits, science diaries, and nature ring-tones; an amazing sonic experience.

Airdate: Jun 29, 2007
Scientist: Michael Hochella

Science Diary: How Toxins Move - Hours in the Library

Science Diary: How Toxins Move - Hours in the Library
Before scientists head into the field, they hit the stacks.

Science Diary: How Toxins Move - Hours in the Library

Music; Ambience: river sound

MH: "One thing I've learned as a scientist over the decades is that science unfolds slowly, and so instead of rushing right out to the field this summer to collect samples, I'm going to do a lot of reading first."

JM: Welcome to Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Virginia Tech Geochemist Michael Hochella is in Montana studying the movement of toxins in the Clark Fork River. Contamination from a mine has moved downstream much faster than had been predicted and Hochella thinks it might have something to do with tiny particles found in the water called nanoparticles. But before he heads out to the field, Michael's heading to the library.

MH: "Now, if you don't do your work in the literature, as a scientist, you can really be spinning your wheels in the field or the lab rediscovering things by not paying attention to what's already been done. If you're a scientist you want to do things that haven't been done before. That's the fun of it. So, I'm going to be spending a lot of time reading this summer, which I'm doing now, every day, reading papers, reading articles that have been in the literature, to help me understand what I want to do here. And then you might think, then you go out and collect some river water that's where I expect to find these nanoparticles, these incredibly small particles I'm looking for in the river. So why not just go out and collect some samples? Well actually it's not so simple. Where do you want to collect the samples? There's hundreds of miles of river out there. When you find a spot on the river where you want to collect water samples, where do you take them in the water column? Do you take them near the surface of the water, halfway down to the river bed, or at the river bed? That could make a difference. Science is really complicated and that's one of the things that keeps me young. There's always something else to think about."

JM: For an update on Michael Hochella's work, please visit our website at Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries are made possible by that National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.