Applied Science 11/27/22

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

Some years ago I took classes to obtain my diver’s license.  No, not driver; diver.  Even my word processor is telling me I’m wrong, but I meant what I typed.  Anyway, at that point, I had already landed my first teaching job at a small college in Ohio where I was the only chemistry professor.  Before getting the certification that I had successfully completed the course, there was an exam.  Students had a certain minimum score requirement (I believe it was 75%).  The exam was fifty questions, all multiple guess, and we took it after our “check-out” dive (the practical version of the test).  I missed one question because I answered it the way that I would handle it rather than the way I knew they wanted it answered.  It dealt with the maximum amount of time you can safely remain underwater at a certain depth, and there are cards to figure this out.  One of the answers was exactly what was on the exam, but personally, I would come up just a little bit earlier, so that was the answer I chose.

As is usual for me, I finished the exam very early, although I had no idea just how early until everybody else finished their exam as there was no time limit.  After the exam, everybody was excited because we all passed.  If you did the math, yes, I got a 98%, but most of the class were just young teens.  They were elated and celebrating their scores, sharing them with one another when somebody noticed that I was not sharing my score.  When they became concerned that perhaps I hadn’t passed (hence finishing the exam early), I reassured them that, yes, I did get a passing grade, but I still didn’t want to share it because they were all successful and deserved their celebration.  The highest score among them was a little over ninety, and that was excellent.  The instructor then congratulated the class, because we had all passed, then gave the range of scores which included my 98.  The students were shocked, and wanted to know who had the high score when one of them realized that I was the only one not sharing the score I had gotten. 

The reality is that it really wasn’t a fair comparison because I had an unfair advantage.  The exam was largely based on the gas laws, something that I understand very well.  There was some practical information that I was missing, such as, for example, that pressure doubles for every ten feet of depth to which you are diving.  That means that if you’re at thirty feet, you’re under 8 atmospheres of pressure.  Although I didn’t know that ten feet equated to doubling of pressure, once I did know the remainder was just simple gas law calculations.  And there were things I would not have considered.  Gases dissolve in liquids at a higher concentration at higher pressure.  This is just Henry’s law.  I knew this.  What I hadn’t considered is that a large portion of air are inert gases, mainly nitrogen.  So at higher pressure, yes, more nitrogen will dissolve in the blood.  I knew this but hadn’t considered the consequences of ascent from a dive.  It takes time for gasses to dissolve or leave a liquid, so if you ascend too quickly, the nitrogen will form little bubbles in your blood not unlike bubbles in pop which is kept at high pressure.  These bubbles, physiologically, tend to form near joints like elbows and knees (where our body “bends”, hence the condition called “the bends”).  This causes discomfort.

So when studying for the exam, I really didn’t have to study nearly as much as the other students.  My work was front-loaded because of my love for chemistry.  Today I’m taking pilot lessons.  Because the FAA doesn’t recognize the difference between fixed-wing piloted aircraft and unmanned quad-copter drone devices, my training (which will not include a practical) involves a lot of lectures on aircraft theory.  As it turns out, while teaching in South Dakota, I started taking pilot training (which I dropped when it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to get a pilot license because of my diabetes), but even then the lecture portions were easy.  The online course is currently talking about the forces on an aircraft, and it all is very easy for me because they are talking about vector analysis in physics.  No, they’re not actually going through the mathematics of vector analysis, but as they talk about changing forces, I recognize it for what it is.  Once again, my background and experience is kicking in to make at least this portion of the training rather transparent and simple.  Of course, things like regulations will be unfamiliar, but it’s a great comfort to know that at least a portion of this exam will be, well, just physics.

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