The Mole As A Unit

I’m currently sitting in a library at UC Berkeley, fresh out of my first office hours session!! Just so you know, I’m mentally patting myself on the back for attending office hours and asking a few of my own questions while also listening intently to what others were asking. Before I talk about the mole (the chemistry mole, that is), I want to quickly talk about how amazing office hours actually are.

I’ve been at Berkeley for a little less than a week now and not going to lie, it’s been tough. I’m not talking about school work or exams, though those will definitely become harder in the coming weeks; I’m talking more about adjusting to life without seeing my family everyday and getting used to my dorm situation, etc.

Office hours was the first school-related “event” that made me really excited to be at Berkeley, which I think says a lot.

Coming to office hours was a spur of the moment decision for me because right now I understand the chemistry lectures and the homework seems straightforward enough. I decided to go in and see my graduate student instructor (referred to as a GSI) just to get an idea of how to seek help later on when I will most likely need it. This was the best decision I’ve ever made. Even with my basic understanding of the material from lectures, the GSI contributed so so so much more to my thought process regarding chemistry. You could tell he was extremely well-versed in chemistry (I mean, duh, he’s a graduate student at Berkeley!), but more than that he was able to break down complex concepts into really manageable ideas. This is how I came to the idea of the mole, which wasn’t even a huge part of my lecture notes this week. So here we go!

The Mole 

In past chemistry classes, I have thought of the mole as many things: an amount, a useful conversion factor, etc. The one thing I have never thought of the mole as is what it actually is…A UNIT! This may seem really insignificant but conceptually it has helped me so much. The mole is a manmade unit!

My GSI compared the mole to a dozen which is simply another unit we use to describe how many there are of a certain object. I could have a dozen eggs for example, or I could even have a mole of eggs, though that would be an insane amount of eggs since a mole is equal to 6.022 x 10^23 of something.

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But the point is that the mole is a unit and it makes accounting for molecules much simpler. Here’s a chemical equation to help illustrate this idea:

2Na + Cl2 –> 2NaCl

*The 2 in Cl2 is meant to be thought of as a subscript

The coefficients on the products and reactants represent the mole ratios of said products and reactants. The mole as a unit can be replaced by the term “molecules” in order to simplify the thought process behind the reaction (i.e. it takes two molecules of Na to react with the diatomic molecule Cl2 in order to produce 2 molecules of NaCl).

However, using the term “molecule” in place of “mole” is only intended to simplify the reaction conceptually. In reality, 2 moles of Na react with 1 mole of Cl2 to produce 2 moles of NaCl. A mole is a lot larger than a molecule since it is a unit meant to symbolize the amount of molecules in 12 grams of Carbon-12, Avogadro’s Number.

So there you have it. The mole is just a unit to help us solve problems. It’s not meant to confuse anyone. Actually, it’s meant to make numbers easier to work with. Isn’t it funny that it took me one session with a GSI to understand this when I didn’t learn it fully in two years of high school chemistry? Oh well, all’s well that ends well!

Hope everyone is having a wonderful day because I know that mine just got a whole lot better!

Smoothie Talk: Kale Bananza

It’s safe to say that I’ve once again become obsessed with smoothies. I mean, what better way to put the kale in my fridge to good use? This morning I decided to go for a more hearty smoothie, not like the usual berry blends I concoct. I wanted to get in a good amount of green veggies and protein while still having a sweet morning snack, so I chose a few elements to tie in together that I hoped would taste yummy and keep me energetic/full till lunchtime. Lately I’ve been having a lot of trouble staying full after breakfast and because I’m beginning to workout in the mornings it’s really important that I have a filling meal to start off the day.

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Without further ado, here is my Kale Bananza smoothie!


Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes


Ingredients:

2 cups kale

1 banana, chopped

2 tbsp peanut butter

1 tbsp cinnamon

2 tbsp Greek yogurt

1 cup filtered water


Instructions:

  1. Combine kale, banana, peanut butter, cinnamon, Greek yogurt, and water into blender.
  2. Blend all ingredients until smooth consistency is achieved.
  3. Pour into cups and enjoy!

On Being Stuck

The summer between eleventh and twelfth grade was a difficult transition period for me. I had come out of junior year with perfect grades, a slew of extracurricular activities and plenty of self-doubt. Despite the two and a half month break from school, I knew that senior year was quickly approaching and my academic fate would soon be decided in the form of college acceptances or, *gulp*, rejections. Perhaps my parents could sense my increasing anxiety or maybe they just needed a break from their own hectic lives, but either way it was decided that at the culmination of summer our quaint family of four would head up north to experience the rugged landscape of Yellowstone National Park.

Fast forward a couple of months and there I was, boarding a flight to Utah, listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In the U.S.A.” while scanning the change in scenery from L.A. to Salt Lake City. My family would drive the long route from Utah to Wyoming in order to hit up a few other states we’d always dreamt of traveling to (yes, people can dream of going to Idaho). Of course, the crown jewel of our trip would be roaming Yellowstone’s hot spring-infested fields and grizzly bear territory.

As my family crossed the welcoming gates of Yellowstone National Park, we all felt the sense of awe that can only come with natural splendor. Our trusty rental car, the exact same model as our own car at home, drove us ten or fifteen miles past any signs of civilization and into vast expanses of meadows, hot springs and bison herds. My mother turned down the music dial so all we heard were the car’s tires rolling faithfully down the narrow road. That was what we heard for several miles at least. Twenty miles in we began to hear a soft clink and were confronted by a warning sign on the dashboard of the car: “flat tire.” Pull over to the side of the road, examine the damage, wait for help. There was nothing more to be done. The back right tire of our car had been punctured mercilessly by an industrial nail and nothing could be done as the rental car agency had failed to provide us with a spare tire. My sister cursed the stupid nail that had derailed our travel agenda. My dad ranted at the carelessness of the rental car agency. My mother paced along the road side. I sat in the back of the car.

As much as I should have been upset by the waste of time the nail had caused, I wasn’t; it was as simple as that. I didn’t care about time at the point, only about outcomes and bad ones at that. The idea of being rejected by my dream school consumed me, picked at my thoughts until I found myself awake at one in the morning with my heart beating viciously against my chest. I was stranded, yes, but where? In Yellowstone? Yes. In my own head? Maybe. I didn’t know how to get out. What I did know was there was a natural hot spring a half a mile away from our stranded vehicle. I would brave the possibility of meeting a lone bison and make the slightly uphill trek to the humid river that seemed to flow endlessly into dark crevices only to appear on the opposite side of the road. I didn’t trust my brain to remain silent when unoccupied.

Walking onto the creaky old woods of the lookout dock and running back to my family’s car to find that a tow truck had miraculously stopped to pick us up, I found that I was smiling. I had made it to the river and gotten sucked into a deliciously suffocating cloud of sulfurous gas. The hot air had gripped my ice cold hands and warmed me.

When my family left the park a few days later, I couldn’t help but feel that things would work themselves out. I’d “survived” nature. I’d survived junior year. I didn’t need to survive anymore. All I needed to do was be present in my own life.

So, to all the high school seniors who are biting their nails in trepidation of college decisions in this beautiful month of March, life is a matter of perspective: past, present, or future. Since we’re all physically in the present, we may as well mentally be there too.