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For a lot of STEM classes, there is an extra component in addition to regularly scheduled classes. Once a week, you have lab, which varies in length, activity, and rigor based on the specific class. Here’s a little about what I did this week in lab:

Monday night: Constructing a motor

In my physics lab, which is 7-10 pm on Mondays, my partner and I assembled a working electric motor out of simple materials including a power supply, baseboard, neodymium disk, and wire. Our task was to design the motor in such a way that the torque on it was always in the same direction, which would allow it to spin. We also explored a demo that involved dropping a magnet down a copper tube and watching it slowly fall through, partially levitating on its way down due to induced current.

This is a screenshot of a video I took of our motor - it was too cool not to share!
Physics lab is always really entertaining because it’s very hands-on and visibly demonstrates the conceptual theories we learn in class. As a result, lab makes the connection between abstract ideas and real-life applications of physics, especially the field of electromagnetics, more obvious. My lab section only contains ten students, so we have more than enough attention and help from our teaching assistant (TA), who is a graduate student. Our post-lab homework involves working through three textbook problems and relating them to what we did in lab.

Tuesday night: Investigating Photosynthesis

The following day, I have biology lab from 6:30-10:30 pm on Tuesdays. That might sound scary, both the fact that it’s at night and four hours long, but it seldom takes the whole four hours, and I actually like having lab at night. Since I tend to feel more worn-out anyways at night, I feel like I have more time freed up in the afternoon to finish my work. This week, our research question focused on the rate of the Hill Reaction, which is part of the light-dependent reactions of photosynthesis.

Our TA, also a graduate student, gave a brief lecture at the start, walking us through our objectives and the procedure. Along with an undergraduate TA, he answers our questions and checks up on our groups. My group includes two other sophomores, and we joke that biology lab is the highlight of our week because we always end up laughing about slipups we make. After lab is done, we usually have a week to finish the lab summary assignment, which involves creating graphs and tables with the data gathered and answering questions about the methodology and results.

One of our first experiments involved separating a mixture of proteins and then checking with a gel to see if we were successful.
So far, I genuinely enjoy the labs for these classes and do not find them as stressful as I had thought. The TAs take off a lot of the pressure because they try to assist as much as they can. For example, in my biology lab a few weeks ago, we inadvertently used the wrong buffer, which would have messed up our entire experiment. Fortunately, the graduate teaching assistant caught the mistake and helped us restart the experiment while it was still early in the procedure. And who doesn’t want to see their cheek cells or spinach chloroplasts under a microscope?

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