Work Experience: 5th-7th February 2018
I did 3 days of work experience in the Geography, Geology and Environment department at Leicester University, along with Ailish Gray. I really enjoyed the experience and learned a lot throughout the 3 days.
On Monday morning we travelled up to Leicester University, leaving at 6:40 in the morning. At 9am we met with Gemma, the technical Services Manager, who told us what we would be doing over the next 3 days. She showed us around the campus and then introduced us to Cheryl, an x-ray specialist who works in the geology labs and who we worked with in the morning.
Cheryl showed us the Leco machine, which tests for Sulphur and Carbon levels in rock samples. The machine combusts the sample and then analyses the amount of Carbon and Sulphur it contains. However this is a very long process and takes a lot of work, the process includes measuring out the samples and putting it into ceramic crucibles, which we were not allowed to touch. First we had to do 10 conditioning blanks, followed by 10 blanks, to calibrate the machine; we then analysed samples with known amounts of Carbon and Sulphur to check the calibration before we even analysed the sample. I enjoyed this experience as it gave us some insight of what it is really like to work in the lab, and showed us a different side to lab work that we hadn’t experienced before.
We finished at 12:30 and ate our lunch in the Charles Wilson building café on campus. At 2pm we met with Gemma again and she introduced us to Simon, who is a lab technician. He showed us one of the store rooms, where some of the field equipment is kept, I found this very interesting as we got to see some of the equipment used for fieldwork, which is different from the equipment used in the regular lab. We then took the pH meters back to the lab and he showed us how to calibrate them using buffer solutions. After calibrating the pH meters, we had to measure out some soil samples for a student practical on the following day. This included weighing out different masses of soil and putting them into plastic bags for the students to analyse in their practical. We also got to have a look at the soil under the microscopes which was very interesting. We finished in the lab at around 4:30.
(Geo Setter software)
On Tuesday morning we worked with Adam, an IT technician. He showed us a geotagging practical he was planning to do with some students, and showed us the instructions that the students would be given. We trialled the practical and gave feedback on what was good and what could be improved before he gave it to the students. The practical involved using iPhones and a tracking app to track a route around the campus, taking pictures along the way. We then returned to the office and linked the iPhones to laptops, where we used a computer software to programme the route using the instructions and eventually view it on Google Earth on the computer, with the images we had taken. I thought this was interesting as it meant that we got to try one of the practicals that the students would take part in, and it also meant that we got to have a look around the campus.
We ate lunch in the Student Union café, which is where most of the students go to eat, so it was very full. We also explored the campus in our lunch break, and had a look around the engineering building as well as the library, something we were interested in, being student librarians at Sharnbrook. In the afternoon we worked with Tom in the geology labs. He showed us the XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence) spectrometer, and explained briefly how it works to analyse the elemental make-up of a sample. We helped to prepare some samples which would then later be used for analysis in the spectrometer. This involved taking rock samples that had previously been crushed into a fine powder and making them into small discs using a hydraulic pump.
On Tuesday morning we worked again with Cheryl, this time using the CT scanner. This is an x-ray scanner that takes images of an object from different angles to produce a 3D image of the object. We worked with a student who wanted to take a scan of a fossil tooth in order to find out what was eaten by the animal when it was alive. The scanner used for geology is very different to those used in hospitals, as the sample is rotated, rather than the scanner rotating around the sample. It took around 2 hours to set up and input all the settings as we had to make sure that all of the settings were correct (such as speed of rotation and how many images were to be taken per second etc.), and the scan itself would take around 6 and a half hours. Unfortunately we did not get to see the final images, but it was still interesting to get an understanding of how the scanner works and to see the geological applications as well as the medical applications.
We ate our lunch in the library café, which was probably my favourite out of the places we had visited as it was much quieter. In the afternoon, we worked with Helen, who is a technician. She showed us one of the labs that she takes care of and we helped her to clean out the cupboards and re-organise the equipment in the lab. This was very interesting as we got to see the equipment used and how a lot of the equipment we have used before at school. After this we helped her to sort some equipment out for a field trip and then she showed us another lab where got to look at some pollen samples in the microscopes which was very interesting.
Overall, I really enjoyed my experience at Leicester, as I felt that it gave me an insight into what it is like to work in a scientific area and also life as a student studying at university.
Thank you to everyone that was involved in our work experience days, and especially to Gemma, who organised everything for us.
Written by Rebecca Whelan