Posts by Margo Davis
好久不见！(Translation: Long time no see!)
I’m back blogging for CC, but this time I am not blogging about a grueling 400 level Environmental Science class… This time I’ll be filling you in on a class that is difficult in an entirely different way: Elementary Chinese. And my name is no longer Margo Davis. In this class, we go by Chinese names, so my name is now 岱曼华.
Intro language classes at CC are taught as two block courses, rather than the standard one-block class. This allows us to get more exposed to the language, which is very much necessary for students with no background in the language. After the ‘elementary’ or 100 level class in a specific language, more advanced courses go back to being just one block.
I am quickly realizing how necessary this extra block is, perhaps even more so for Chinese. Of course, there is a learning curve for any foreign language, but Chinese seems to have a particularly steep learning curve. The language is incredibly removed from anything I have any familiarity in. Most noticeable is that there is no alphabet in Chinese. For beginning learners, the sounds of characters can be represented by ‘pinyin,’ which is certainly helpful, but still kind of confusing because the sounds represented by English letters are much different than most English pronunciations. Beyond that, the language is tonal. So slight variations in pronunciation completely alter the meaning. For example, the phrase “Qing wen” can either mean “May I ask you a question?” or “May I kiss you?” depending on the tone used on ‘wen.’ Therefore, in class, many of us unintentionally cross some boundaries because our pronunciation skills simply are not quite there yet.
Luckily, we have lots of tools available to us for help. Our online workbook has many listening exercises to get us used to these new sounds and we have a Chinese tutor that we meet with in small groups once a week to help with our speaking. We also have a very patient professor who kindly corrects us as we get flustered and inevitably butcher the language.
The one thing about the Chinese language that makes it easier to learn is that there never is a need to conjugate. I have to admit that even after two weeks I still get a lost sometimes, but it is amazing how much we have already learned. We can read, write, and speak in complete sentences about our families, hobbies, and plans with friends. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll be confident enough to walk into a room of Chinese speakers and say “May I ask a question?” without the fear of giving people the wrong idea.
We’ve moved on from atmospheric physics to atmospheric chemistry, and have spent our time looking at different constituents of our atmosphere and how they get there. One interesting (and complicated) reaction we have focused on is ozone formation and depletion in various layers of the atmosphere. In the stratosphere, the second layer of the atmosphere, ozone is incredibly important, and shields out UV light which can be dangerous to humans. We learned about the combination of reactions and circumstances that contributes to the ‘ozone hole’ over Antarctica. Most in our class were struggling with the material, but we all felt a little better about it after our professors reminded us that this research won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the 1990s.
While lack of ozone in the stratosphere is cause for concern, the presence of ozone in the troposphere, the closest layer of atmosphere to the ground, is equally troubling. When in the troposphere, ozone can cause health problems and contribute to the greenhouse effect. Logically, then, regulations should be in place to limit the presence of ozone in the troposphere. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. When we took a closer look at the science behind the formation of ozone in the lower atmosphere, we discovered two main types of pollutants that produced ozone. Oddly, in some settings, decreasing one type of emission will actually make the air quality worse in that area. BUT, those same decreased emissions would make air quality in an area downwind better. Different emissions regulations are needed in different places, but this would require immense cooperation and huge improvements in technology. So we get into this conundrum about how we really can regulate in a way that is realistic and effective for everyone.
This wasn’t the only bit of policy we conquered as a class. We also had group projects about converting the closed Templeton Gap Landfill (right here in Colorado Springs) to a landfill gas energy production site. The gas emitted from landfills can be dangerous to us and to our environment, and converting it into energy has been viewed as a positive solution. The class divided into groups that all tackled one science, policy, or logistical issue surrounding this idea. We then presented our findings to the rest of the class, giving everyone a comprehensive view of the topic. My group looked at the feasibility of making this business, and for any entrepreneurs out there, I can tell you that it is very much doable.
We have been able to take all of the material we’ve learned and make it incredibly applicable. I think this class, more so than any other class I’ve had, has been easy to make connections and understand the importance of what we are learning. It certainly has lived up to its standard of being a difficult course, but it also has been eye opening and fascinating in many ways. That being said, we do have a daunting atmospheric chemistry final on Wednesday, so don’t expect to be hearing from me.
For our labs this week, the class is divided into different lab groups, so groups rotate between the three labs to experiment with all of them in small groups. On our first day, yesterday, my group started analyzing air pollution right on campus. Little did I know, the is an air filterer on the roof of Barnes. We placed a fiberglass filter in the odd, mailbox shaped machine, and then a vacuum pulls air through the filter. The vacuum runs overnight to get 24 hours of air filtered. The filter we placed yesterday will be analyzed by a different group today.
We analyzed filter that underwent the same process a couple days earlier. In order to do that, we had to extract all of the particulate matter that was collected from the filter and create solutions from them that could be analyzed. We diluted them and used two machines to thoroughly mix the solutions. The solutions were put into vials that can be analyzed with ion chromatography and XRF. This processes will tell us what types of ions and other elements (like metals) are in the air. One great thing about this class is how applicable everything we are learning is. Our labs don’t focus on abstract concepts, they focus on the weather and the air that is all around us. No one in our class ever has to ask “Well, when could I ever use this in real life? Why does this matter?” because we are using class material in ways that directly pertain to our lives.
Today in class, we learned how a cold front actually effects weather. Of course, watching the news or checking the weather online had given me the terminology and awareness of cold fronts, and that they typically mean clouds and perhaps storms, but now I understand how those cold fronts cause the weather that they do. All of us had a moment where it clicked, where we were able to justify what we’ve experienced in our lives with the science behind it. It seems like that’s happening more and more frequently for us these days. As an assignment over the weekend, we had to take a mindful walk (or run, hike, or ski) and really think about the weather around us. It didn’t have to be scientific or quantitative in any way, but we were supposed really absorb our environment, however we felt was appropriate. When we talked about it in the morning, many of our classmates talked about ‘nerding out’ as they had to describe to a friend why a particular weather phenomenon was occurring, or what it meant about our speed traveling around the Earth if the air was calm for a moment. So if you see us around campus, you’ll have to excuse us and our excitement about the weather, but it’s pretty incredible when all of the sudden you finally understand the world around you.
Fifth block always feels like a bit of a whirlwind, as we all frantically try to get out of vacation mode and back into our normal role as students. But never have I experienced a fifth block quite this intense. I am in what will almost certainly be the hardest class of my CC career – Air: Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry. So far the course has lived up to its (somewhat intimidating) reputation established by previous EV students.
We have had a lot of challenging work and a demanding schedule, but we are learning fascinating material and getting the opportunity to see real world applications of what we are learning. As Nicole mentioned, we launched a giant, six-foot wide weather balloon with the help of an engineer from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). And yesterday, we experienced first hand the work that goes into reporting common weather indices such as dew point and humidity. We got to take our lab outside on the quad to try out the instrumentation and methods. So even though we’re all in a grueling class, we’re still able to enjoy the outdoors – and the glorious sunny weather we’ve been having!
We continue on with physics for now, but in the next week we’ll be moving on to Atmospheric Chemistry. Word around the lab is that we’ll be performing an analysis of the particulate matter (a dangerous type of air pollution) content in Colorado Springs. As we forge on, we learn more and more about the air we’ve so casually been relying upon our entire lives.