Lobster 7/29/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Sometime around 1990ish, I was a graduate school working on my doctorate in chemistry.  A group of my friends, chemistry graduate students all, decided that they wanted that they wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving in Cape Cod.  As popular as Cape Cod is in the warmer weather, in the winter it’s pretty well deserted.  Hotels are very cheap because there is just no tourism, so we rented three rooms for the three couples going.  Yes, believe it or not, I even had a girlfriend, but, to be fair, that was also our last date. 

So we got some lobsters, and everybody was responsible for bringing something.  We stole a hotplate from one of the labs, and managed to find a convenience store that sold extension cords so we could run it from where the television was plugged in to a chair where we could set the hotplate.  Of course, we didn’t stop to think about the smell of cooking lobsters in one of our rooms, and, being as magnanimous as I am, it ended up being my room.

Maybe that’s why she didn’t go out with me again.  After spending a night in a hotel room that smelled of lobster, well, you see where I’m going with this.

Of course, the laboratory hotplate was a high current device, and the extension cord wasn’t a good one.  And yes, the extension cord overheated and yes, it shorted.  So, we had to put the chair on a table to be able to plug it in directly.  Eventually, slowly but surely, the water boiled, but it certainly took its time. 

Probably one of the funniest things that happened was the ice cream.  One of our participants thought it would be good to bring ice cream for dessert.  Who doesn’t love ice cream?  Brilliant idea.  He got a Styrofoam container, and filled it with ice to keep the ice cream frozen.

Are you seeing where I’m going with this?

In chemistry, there are several well-known phenomena called “colligative properties”.  These are properties of solutions that are dependent on the concentration of a solution, but independent as to the identity of the solute.  Take, for example, melting point depression.  Solutions always melt (or freeze) at a lower temperature than the pure solvent.  For example, if you put, say, Casein (the main protein in milk), sugar, and flavoring such as vanilla in a solution, it will freeze at a lower temperature than water.  Anybody who has made home-make ice cream with that old hand crank ice cream churner understands this.  To get the ice cream mix to actually freeze, you surround it with ice, and put a large quantity of salt in the ice.  This ice and salt mixture melts at a far lower temperature than just ice, and at a lower temperature than the ice cream solution. 

So these CHEMISTRY GRADUATE STUDENTS had ice cream in a cooler with ice.  Just ice.  And I said to them, “this won’t keep the ice cream frozen; we need to add salt.”  These graduate students listened to me as well as people have listened to me my entire life, meaning, they didn’t.  “It’ll be fine,” these CHEMISTRY GRADUATE STUDENTS said. 

Would you like to guess who was right?

Yup, several hours later, when the lobster was finally cooked, and after we had finished stinking up my room (I was such an idiot), we had basically chilled sweetened milk for dessert.

It seems as if anyplace you go has its heaven and its hell.  In the spring, summer and even fall Cape Cod is a dream spot.  Surrounded by ocean, it’s a great place to swim and, in the fall, experience the phenomenal New England foliage, but there’s not much to do when it’s cold.  I lived for a couple of years in Rapid City, South Dakota.  If you’re not familiar with it, it’s just at the base of the Black Hills (an area sacred to the Native Americans) and at the edge of the Badlands.  The Badlands are terrible for farming, but they are filled with natural beauty.  The Black Hills are a beautiful isolated mountainous region.  Not part of a mountain range, they are forested, with a plethora of caves perfect for spelunking, and home to Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial.  But they also trap weather.  It seems like when a winter storm blows through, it either (more or less) bypasses Rapid City, or it is trapped by the hills and Rapid takes the brunt.  Go up there when the weather is nice, and it’s just unsurpassed for beauty, but in the winter it gets bitterly cold, and excessively hot in the summer.  It’s just a matter of timing. 


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