Airdate: Jul 30, 2007
Scientist: Michael Hochella
Science Diary: How Toxins Move - Shelved
The reality of scientific research is that it often must take a back seat to the demands of life!
"Sometimes the wheels of science turn relatively slowly when you're an academic."
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 trying find out why heavy metal toxins in a Montana river move downstream much more quickly than predicted. Michael thinks the answer might have something to do with nanoparticles, tiny bits of matter. Months ago, he collected water samples in Montana, and now he's back at his lab, struggling to get a new high-powered microscope to work and he's doing a balancing act familiar to many scientists who teach. He's hoping to find time to examine his samples amidst his academic duties.
"Those water samples are sitting on my shelf right here - I'm looking at them right now. And, they are just sitting. And it hasn't helped that the transmission electron microscope has been down this fall. It's a brand new instrument, and brand new instruments don't usually run all that well for the first year. They're so complex. There're so many electronic parts and mechanical parts and things that must work perfectly for the instrument to work that usually in the first six months or year it's just pretty much a shakedown cruise, trying to get everything working all in unison, all in sync. So, we're going through those problems. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel -- getting to those samples, it just doesn't happen yet. Sometimes the wheels of science turn relatively slowly when you're an academic. And, you have so many duties beyond research, including obviously teaching. Yes, it's really exciting, really fun, really long hours -- I love it -- but man, sometimes you just can't get to the things that you're so anxious to get to. Well, just have to wait."
Will Michael Hochella get his samples under the microscope? We'll find out in future programs. Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner