Monday, February 28, 2011

Back in Houston, a few relics of California flora too.

I'm finally back in Houston, after a bit of a misadventure during my last day in LA. Needless to say, the SIMS workshop was a great experience. I learned a lot about applications of SIMS (and even was wowed by some incredible images of cells collected by NanoSIMS), filled in some gaps in my knowledge concerning basic mass spectrometry stuff, met some great fellow grad students, and had a promising conversation with Mark Harrison at the end of it. Also learned a lot about the GENESIS and STARDUST missions, which sampled the solar wind and a cometary tail, respectively.

Anyway, just to share a few more photos of plants in the UCLA botanical gardens. Speaking of which, that mystery plant on the previous post is Dianella, in the family Phormiaceae. They are commonly called "Flax lilies." They're not native to the New World.

Now for some of my favorite flowers (that are native to the New World) - California poppies and the Channel Island Tree Poppy (so called because it grows as a small shrub). I took these photos of the California poppy early in the morning, when there was still dew on them. Good thing too, because by late afternoon, they had all closed up in the hot sun.

Channel Island Tree Poppy below:

And one last one.. California poppy again. I like how this one came out.

OK... that's a botanical overload for now.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Learning about the ion microprobe and UCLA Botanical Gardens

I'm very fortunate to be here at UCLA for a week learning about the ion microprobe at a workshop for students. It's been pretty good so far; we've had several lectures on some mass spec basics, and then we got to look at the Cameca IMS 1280. Tour of the MegaSIMS to come on Friday. The ion probe is a beautiful instrument - there's no housing and everything is exposed so you see it as it is. The lectures have been insightful, and we've had some lab "practicals", one in which we determined the ion yield of a pit with a given geometry (very important for planning out your gameplan), and we did a practice "run" just using the channel plate as detector on some zircons. It's a bit like a crash course, but I've been trying my best to pick the brains of all the extremely smart people around me. Mass spectrometry is complicated, but the more I'm learning about the guts of it, the more I'm liking it.

Anyway, I'm hoping to get a photo in front of the ion probe before I leave, but there just hasn't been a free minute to do that yet (hopefully on Friday). And maybe sometime in the near future I might come back to UCLA to use the ion probe, particularly for these detrital zircons in garnet-bearing quartzites.

On another note, the UCLA geology building is located literally right next to a pretty nice botanical garden on campus. Unfortunately their hours are quite stringent (8-5); I actually got kicked out today at 5:01 by a dude riding on a motorized wheelbarrow (have you ever gotten kicked out of a botanical garden before?). But, I did manage to look at some of the plants this morning when they opened (I waited in front of the gate at 8:00), and then just briefly this afternoon. I managed to get a few quick photos in. The morning is best for photographing mainly for the light, but also because many of the flowers are just opening and so they're really "fresh." In the late afternoon, things start to droop a bit. They've got some incredible exotic flora (many Hawaiian and Asian species), lots of different figs (the fruits were on the ground everywhere), a whole terrace of roses (I'm not really a big fan of roses though), and lots of other plants. I will definitely go back tomorrow and Friday morning to see the rest before the SIMS workshop starts at 9!

Heliotrope, a member of the Boraginaceae.

Blue sage. Click on it to enlarge and see the scruff on the petals.

Strawberry-flavored powderpuffs... some kind of Mimosa tree (Fabaceae).

This flower was my favorite; but I forgot the name and it's written in my notebook which I don't have at the moment. More info on this one in the next post.

One more of the flower with no name at the moment. I'm proud of this one.

And last.. the cute little Blue Pea (a shrub).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Problem with the American View of "Exercise"

After much observation of people and their attitude towards working out and exercising, I have come to the following philosophy. Most people in America, and perhaps the Western world as a whole, have what I believe to be a way too analytical approach to exercise. By analytical, I mean, separating a whole into its parts; isolating the fundamental principles from something. Exercise should not be this way. It should not be: "let me isolate only the physical (muscles) part of my body, and train them in an artificial environment (while I watch YOuTube videos on my iPhone)". Rather, it should be, "Let me take a walk during my lunch break for 20 minutes, just around the block, or wherever, and just do nothing but walk and LOOK and think about what I see."

My ideas aren't motivated out of sheer philosophizing. There is an actual recent study that looked into whether strenuous exercise truly benefits us. The results are interesting, but predictable: the more we force ourselves to undergo strenuous workouts, the more calories we consume, and often, we just negate the effects of our workout. We shouldn't be looking at exercise as an "act-reward" system; although, subconsciously, I think many people treat exercise as such. "Let me work out for 2 hours at the gym on the treadmill; therefore I have a right to eat this dessert." Exercise should not be just about putting yourself in a sterile environment (it's not the equivalent of locking yourself up in a study cubicle in the library to study for a big exam). It should be so much more holistic than this. Taking the elevator instead of walking up the stairs with a big pile of books - that's exercise. Taking a break to go for a 15 minute walk during your workday - that's exercise. And not just because you want to "work" out your muscle fibers. Exercise should be about working out your mind and brain fibers - which means being observant, LOOKING at nature and what's around us, whether it be a leaf blowing in the wind or a bird singing up in a tree, anything. When we incorporate exercise as a way of life, when we make a conscious effort to be active in every aspect of our day-to-day existence instead of sequestering our exercise into 2 hour gym routines, then I think our lives our so much more normal! That is the way it was when we were kids, wasn't it?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Microscope photographs: Metasediments

Earlier this week I got back a new batch of thin sections from Burnham Petrographics. Since almost all the detrital zircons in my metasediment thick (200 micron) sections were destroyed after laser ablation for U-Pb and Hf isotopes, I got several new sections made. This time, though, I decided to go for the 1-inch circular section (in the event I do anything cool with zircons on the SIMS in the future). Also, I made them 30 microns thick, just to see whether I could decipher any new textural information. It's difficult for me to see all the textures in 200 micron thick sections, particularly when there are ambiguous phases present like in these metasediments. One such phase is a dark decrepitated brownish-black phase that is some kind of feldspar, but also a mixture with some mafic components (it may be some garnet breakdown product or perhaps a reaction with fspar and something else to form garnet). Anyway, in the thick sections, this phase just looks like a clots of dark brown, amorphous stuff. In the thin sections, though, several revealing new features have come to light:

In the center of this photograph, you can clearly see a relict plagioclase twinning. Such relict twinning is commonly seen in many of the clots of dark stuff, thanks to the thinner section. In the photo below, that's the same dark stuff with the microscope light turned up to the maximum intensity. You can't make any relict textures out.

I took this photo not for the dark stuff but for the beautiful little trio of detrital minerals - graphite (? topmost left, fuzzy within the quartz lattice plane), rutile (amber-colored), zircon (tiny bright speck with high relief), and monazite (? I think; the pale green equant grain with comparatively lower relief).

Take a look at this spectacular texture in the above photo. The large grain is garnet, with several inclusions. The grey mineral is quartz, notice the undulatory extinction. The bright silvery patches are the abovementioned dark stuff (some sort of contaminated ternary feldspar mixture). Upon closer inspection, if you zoom in to high mag... you can actually see individual feldspar laths within this phase, further confirming that it's feldspar. It almost looked like the plag-rich groundmass in volcanic rocks, which got me wondering... could that "vein" splitting the garnet down the middle in the photo be some alkali-rich melt infiltration (possibly the host lava?). There are definitely some oxidized phases, probably associated with late stage events, rimming the garnet (the rusty orange phases). Texturally (and also shown by micro-XRF maps not shown here), there is evidence for melt infiltration. However, I still think most of the "dark stuff" (here, "bright stuff"), is probably original feldspar that broke down. I'm still contemplating a lot of the textures I observed today, so more thoughts later. For now, I leave you with one last fun photo. Below is a binary system of detrital zircons in quartz (for some reason the quartz looks greenish; it's possibly my camera). The bigger zircon fractured the quartz around it. Look at how round these zircons are! They are most certainly detrital in origin...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Cold Arctic Finger... brings a lovely speckled rain-sodden leaf.

What a sea change it's been in the weather. Only yesterday, a balmy 70 degrees, and today, 40 degrees, and the prospect of SNOW (IN HOUSTON!) on Friday. This morning a tempest tore through town, with 50 mph winds and rain. It was intense; it reminded me of Ike. I love weather like this though - finally, a true raw winter day in Houston (they are so few and far between). On my walk through the neighborhood to Rice this morning, I found this enormous sycamore leaf (it's larger than my splayed out hand) right on the sidewalk. I almost passed over it, but stopped back because something caught my eye - the lovely mottled patterns on the leaf. It's as if this leaf decided to change its colors a few times, but couldn't decide (I don't blame it; with it being summery one day then freezing the next down here). Some parts of it even show a fuller autumn spectrum with red and orange peeking through. It's a beautiful leaf, so I took it with me and dried it out a bit because it was so rain-soaked, then stuck inside a big book to press it.