Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Few Words on Research

So I'm not sure how interested you all will be about this stuff but I figured, hey, it's a blog, I'm supposed to write about what's going on in my life right now, so here it goes. For about 10 months now I've been searching for a research project for my Masters Thesis without any luck. I could have gone into research with the cutting edge technology of water treatment, but sewage and drinking water just don't turn me on. Anyway, starting yesterday I've started some hourly research looking into micriboially induced corrosion (MIC). The general idea is that microbes can eat metal (including stainless steel) under the certain conditions. Right now there is only $5000 of funding, not enough for a thesis, but it's enough to get started. Hopefully more funding will come through later. However, if funding doesn't come through what will probably happen is that I will do a non-thesis track. Originally I was dead set against this but the more I think about it the more I think that there are some advantages to this track. I would need to complete several independent study projects which would allow me more room to diversify. Instead of spending 9 months looking into MIC I could spend more time learning a programming language and writing a simple contaminant transport model. So, yeah, maybe a non-thesis won't be as bad as I thought.

Back to MIC (pronounced "Mike"). All life needs several things to live. Among them are water, a carbon source, an electron donor and an electron acceptor. For humans: water=water, carbon source=sugar, electron donor=sugar, electron acceptor=oxygen. Bacteria on the other hand are way more creative, especially in the electron acceptor category. So imagine that you're a microbe sitting in the bottom of an oil pipeline. There is probably some water that has made it in there and since oil floats on water if you're on the bottom of the pipe you're sitting in water. It's warm since crude oil comes out of the ground warm, and you like that. Also, you have all this oil flowing over your head, oil that is a cocktail hydrocarbons. So here water=water (because water always = water) carbon source=oil, energy source=oil, electron donor=oil, electron acceptor=a lot of things. Basically, sitting in the bottom of this oil pipeline is basically like Heaven. Only problem is that you tend to poop out acid and various oxidants. The acid eats away at the metal, causing pits and the oxidants ozidize (rust) the metal. Eventually you might even eat all the way through the pipeline, costing some oil guy a bunch of money.

Oh, and by the way, if you were a bacteria eating the inside of a pipe, you'd look like this:Or thisThis rod was placed in a bath of crude oil and stream water (source of microbes) at 40C for about a month. I can't say for sure what kind of metal this is, but I can tell you that it's what they make pipelines out of. Here is what the setup looked like (oil on top and water on bottom).
So yeah, that's what I'm up to now. Don't know about you but I think it's awesome.

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