My Strangest Educational Experiences at Cal

Hey there! My name’s Violet and I’m excited to be writing for the Bear Talk Blog this semester.

I study physical geography and atmospheric science, and maybe its just me and my major, but I feel like I’ve done some pretty weird things for class. This post lists five strange things I’ve done for school, it coincidentally also doubles as a list of some of my favorite memories here. I can’t wait to add to it!


1. Licked rocks

Introductory Earth science courses at Berkeley include labs, several of which focus on mineralogy. In one of my lab sections I was once asked to identify a solid sample of Halite (solid NaCl), and given the option of licking it as a foolproof method of identification, I did. It was salty.

2. Buried leaves

About a month ago, I found myself bent over in the dark on the corner of my street at 10:00pm on a Monday night, collecting freshly fallen leaves for class. I then had to sew those leaves into bags and take them home to bury in my garden. A few weeks from now I will dig them up and take them to class to measure how much moisture was lost, but as of now they’re still (hopefully) buried in my garden.

3. Collected dead bugs

As a class assignment this semester I had to hang a sticky trap in my student co-op’s garden, take photos every week, and eventually bring it in to class. There we counted the number of dead bugs collected and practiced analyzing population data. It was gross!

4. Put leaves in acid

I do research in a lab on campus, and my supervisor and I once wanted to test if all of the acid had been cleaned out of our samples without testing for pH (the normal metric for acidity). We decided that putting leaves in the samples and seeing what happened would be a feasible way to do this, so we walked outside the building in our lab coats and safety glasses, assessed the surrounding trees, and chose a leaf which would fit in our beaker. Doing strange lab experiments with leaves seems to be a theme in this post…

5. Had a sleepover with PhDs

In my first semester, I took a field research trip with the professor who runs my laboratory and two of his colleagues up to Mono Lake. That night, we talked about science over a fantastic risotto made by an Italian postdoc, and slept in the freezing field research station in our sleeping bags. The next morning we woke up, and went out to collect sediment samples. That trip sparked my interest in field research and helped me decide my major, every time I open one of our bags of dirt now it fills me with memories of my first few months at Berkeley.

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Author: Violet

Hey, thanks for reading! I'm a Physical Geography major, Earth Science minor, Cal Ballroom dancer, an undergraduate researcher in the Quaternary Paleoecology Lab, Campus Ambassador, student co-op member, and a rising junior. I'm a born and bred Berkeley local and lover of backpacking, science, and nature.

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