Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Trip Around the Earth, Planets, Stars, and Back Again.

Recently I had the great opportunity to attend the Geoscience Society of America (GSA) held in downtown Denver, Colorado. Before we decided to make the near six hour trip to make it to the convention center we were told to write our experiences we would have, what we would learn, and what we would take away from the conference. This is my attempt to reflect my experiences while in Denver. Hope you enjoy.

          We all piled in the cars, half awake, leaving trails of our breath in the morning air. After a little organization of everyone Dr. Leite gave our van life and we pulled out of the Math and Science parking lot. The van rumbled out of Chadron, Nebraska and we were off for our four day lecture series. But, the talks would not start once we reached our destination.

          Almost as though the conversation was written upon an itinerary, all of the passengers of the car began talking about different fields of science. An orchestra of thoughts, ideas, experiences, and evidences of different discussions that ranged from dinosaurs to the very tips of our universe. I soon realized that while I was going to be listening to experts from across the world speak on their specialties, I would also be having a sort of warm up in this van that was seating max occupants. Listening to what fueled the imaginations, the child-like love of science, that everyone in that van shared. 

          Our discussions lead us into topics that I had heard of, researched, and some of the impromptu lectures went so far over my head that all I could do was listen and try to catch what I know. More than likely, pass out on the seat in front of me to be unavoidably awoken by a heated discussion or a pot hole that Dr. Leite could not avoid. This process was recycled over and over with different discussions of many fields of science until we could see dancing about the horizon Denver’s skyscrapers, fingers that reached into the sky and played amongst the clouds.

          After some traffic, a parking garage that made us feel like a turn table with the many loops, and a quick walk we were on the bottom floor. We crossed a few streets and train tracks and we were out front. We were greeted by a large blue bear that was peeking into the windows of the second floor of the conference center. This, of course, would be our meeting spot for the duration of the event.

          We all gathered together and proceeded inside. We headed down a few stairs, walked to a booth that had our letter of our last name, and were given a name tag, a bag, and an itinerary that was larger than some of my textbooks for my courses. I thumbed my own book and flipped through pages upon pages of lectures, events, and highlighted speakers. A few moments I had found the lecture series and room that I would be calling my classroom for the next few days.

          After all of us had condensed from the other vehicles and retrieved our items we made plans to meet up at the big blue bear (of course) in a matter of hours. We split apart like bowling pins, flying to all corners of the convention center. Each of us hunting the lectures that interested us, and with the plethora of talks we had a lot to choose from.

To some that was the Earth History and how the world had gotten to where it is today. A few attending the talks of paleontology that show how the lives that had come before us were born, lived, died, and preserved so that we may get to see glimpses of the shadows of the stories they told. I had made my way to room 201 where the Interplanetary Sciences were discussing future applications that will be used when mankind will one day reference Earth as our first home. One or two went to lectures that were designed to inform the proper retrieval of the resources and the black blood our world runs on: oil. Some still went to lectures that were designed with the daunting, and apparently somewhat controversial, task of opening the eyes of students to see all of these avenues of life, and not just to know about them, but to understand them.

I then proceeded down the corridors of the massive building to find the room that I was looking for.  I followed a barrage of arrows with numbers above them, striding through halls with people on every side, discussing the science of the world around us. I swam in the sound of periodic clapping resonating all around me from the galleries of lecture rooms that gave the ambience of a hard summer rain on a metal roof. I had finally found my way into the projector lit room. A podium at the front of the sea of chairs of which around forty to fifty people who sat, stood, and leaned to listen to what the man at the front was saying.

The first discussion that I got the honor to listen to was a study that was being conducted to find exactly how much water was on the lunar surface. This is paramount for supporting Human life and having a source of fuel to give life to our means of transportation from one place to the other. The lectures that were presented were only about twelve minutes long, while others in the large ballrooms could take anywhere from half an hour to hours. However I don’t want to diminish the scope of the other lecture rooms as they were also very great. After the talks a few questions would be asked. These would range in the honest question that were used to gain more information on the subject, to test the speaker on his knowledge of his topic, or an out-right attack designed, not to test the speaker, but to relieve him of all credibility and publicly humiliate him or her.

Throughout the days at the conference I attended lectures about the lunar saturation of water, location, and harvesting. In other lecture series was the mapping of interplanetary bodies and the formations such as volcanoes, meteor impacts, and sedimentology. Some even went into the details of colonization projects and bringing asteroids into Earth’s atmosphere for mining operations. Shortly after were the effects of meteorite impacts on planets besides Earth and how to characterize these sometimes super massive interplanetary explosions. Moons of our galaxy and the effects of tidal forces, water sources, shielding from meteorites, mineral gather, and so much more. I would continue, but I believe that suffices in your understanding of how much of a science geek I am.

I took a lot of knowledge from this college excursion to Denver to be a part of a community that I could never have imagined. While the lectures were very informative, for the most part, the people there were even more so. I have learned a few things that I believe are important from the observation of the people that attended this conference. As I walked from one lecture hall to another during the breaks or sometimes just the monotony of a lecture in my room I observed all of the men and women that were in attendance. This is what I have gathered, broken down for your convenience.

1.)  Geologists are the trending part of the physical science department. I mean this not in the way that the department is growing and is a large trend. No. I mean this in the sense that wherever I looked 90% percent of the computers in use were Macs, plaid shirts comprised of earth tones, and if you were a man you best have a beard, large brimmed hat, long wavy hair, or dressed as though you just came down from camping on a mountain. These men and women are the hipsters of the Physical Science Departments.

2.)  Members attending were wearing the same type of clothing. As I was walking by men and women were swarming all around me I thought I may be attending a showcase for North Face clothing line. The runway being the conference in its entirety. Backpacks, coats, hats, lanyards, and other garments all embroidered with the North Face logo to show that this man or woman does not mess around when it comes to warmth and comfort amidst rock collecting.

3.)  Geologists love beer. This could not be more evident than the fact that this was the 125th anniversary of the GSA conference. How do you celebrate this? A nice wine? Maybe Champagne all around? How about some whiskey to really get the night going?! Nope. The Field Assistant was an ale that was created special for this event, and upon registering you are given a certain number of beer tokens in order to receive this beer daily. This was promptly thrown out the preverbal window as after the second day you were allowed as many free beers, often times the server handing you one for each hand. This led to some rather interesting conversations to be had amongst the scientists there.

4.)  But most importantly, the atmosphere was thick with the rapid discussions, idea creation, sharing, and loving of the scientific world. I have never been to such a place that I felt as though I was more at home than in a conference center filled with nearly 15,000 strangers.

But I was also honored to be able to share this experience with my professors and friends old and some new. While in Denver we dined at some very interesting places, had some heart to heart discussions, laughed at stories, and joined together on new experiences. We even got to celebrate the 21st birthday of one of our own to which that night will not be forgotten, I am sure.  From riding a bus to see where it would end, to being mesmerized by the collection of exhibits at the Museum of Nature and Science, to the discussions that went on until three in the morning they were all cherished times that will not be shortly forgotten.

I have to give thanks to Chadron State College for allowing me and my fellow students to go on this professional journey. This involvement in a community such as this has really shaped what I hope to do in the future and shown me other directions that I can go once I graduate. Thank you to Dr. Leite and Jen Balmat for chaperoning all of us crazy people and giving help when needed. But a special thanks to everyone who went for shaping such fantastic memories.

Best Regards and Blessings of Fair Winds,

Nathan Pindell

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