Monday, March 26, 2007
Day 0: Drinking from the fire hose
Welcome to Zzyzx!
After another night's stay in Mammoth Lakes, I made the drive to our base for the rest of the week, the Zzyzx Desert Research Center.
Today was meant as a travel and very brief orientation day. Nothing was on the official schedule until dinner at 7pm and a mass group meeting afterward. Everyone met together and we were given the do's and don't for the area. The usual, "look out for rattlesnakes, scorpions and nasty bugs" "don't drink the water" etc. We were also treated to a geologic history of the area, including the conditions leading to the formation of the Soda dry lake, where the base is situated.
We were then given the official list of the projects that will be going on while we are here. Talk bout overload! Imagine that you are on a research expedition with several groups of NASA research scientists. Each group presents you with a brief overview of their project, and you have to choose which you will be assisting with. The science geek in me is in Heaven! The "normal" person in me is hiding in a corner babbling incoherently. ;)
It looks like I will be opting for the "sample a bit of everything" after all. There are a couple of research paths (originally called "science themes") which look like they are going to be extremely popular. Doing an infra-red scan of the desert, looking for caves from the hot air balloon seems like it's going to be one of the most written about.
While a hot-air balloon ride would definitely rank high on my scale of "cool things to do", the main goal of the program is to ignite the spark of enthusiasm for science in the young students. Telling them that you can do your science from a hot air balloon, just seems too easy. I'll wait and see what the sign up sheets look like tomorrow morning. The teachers (and the Astrobiology students) declare our interest for the day by signing a sheet, with a limited number of spaces, for whichever "theme" we want to participate.
I know I want to do the microbiology at least one of the days, and the geology trip, probably on Thursday. As for the other days, I'm thinking that I may just pick the sheet with the fewest names on it. That way I'll get more face time with the scientists, and researchers.
As a bit of a bonus, Dr. Brian Day, broke out one of the research center's telescopes, and we spent about 90 minutes looking at lunar features, with Dr. Day explaining how their formation closely mirrors the formation of similar features in our area. If you ever have a chance to have a NASA scientist give you an astronomical tour of the night sky, DON'T PASS IT UP! Even with my experience as an amateur astronomer, I learned almost as much in that hour and a half, as I learned in my entire last semester's astronomy class.
Of course, now it's after Midnight, and I am still typing away in my tent, and have to get up in a few hours. Ahh, the life of a field researcher!