Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fuel Cell and Trip to Astor Place Theater

Boy! Today was quite a day. For our final project, our group successfully built a rudimentary fuel cell! While the finished product looks like something you might find at the bottom of a dump (which is where you will find it in a couple of days,) we got an electric potential of .5 volts! While a "fuel cell" seems like it would be a complicated contraption, it really is just a battery that can run indefinitely as long as the right chemicals are added. Our fuel cell was constructed to run off of sodium borohydride and oxygen (air).

The following is an overview explaining the basic idea of the fuel cell. (Feel free to skip it.)

The simplified idea is that you have positively charged hydrogen in one compartment and oxygen in another. They have a tendency to react, so (with a platinum plated mesh as a catalyst,) the hydrogen crosses over to the oxygen container through a nafion membrane. The important property of this membrane is that only positively charged molecules can cross it. So the positively charged hydrogens cross, but in order to balance out charges, some electrons (which are negatively charged) need to get to the other side. The force drawing the electrons to the other compartment is where you get your power. If you run a wire from the hydrogen to the oxygen, the electrons will use this wire as a "bridge" to get from one compartment to the other. What you then do, is run this wire through a light bulb or some other device. The electrons are forced to pass through it if they are to get to the other side.

This afternoon, Professor David Schiering came in to talk about his work on IR and Raman spectroscopy. These are both techniques airports and the military use to identify potentially harmful substances.

After classes finished, I took the trains down to the Astor Place Theater to get seats for the Blue Man Group! I arrived an hour before the show to buy the "student rush" tickets at a huge discount. However by the time I got up to the box, I was in line right behind two young woman excited about seeing the show. When they got up to choose their seats, the Ticketmaster told them that there were exactly two seats remaining. Two tickets, two people, and I was in line after them. I groaned when they handed their money and got their tickets. From the beginning, I knew that there was a chance of not getting any tickets, but having the person in front of you buying the last ticket hurts. Dejectedly, I went up and asked if there were any seats at all available. He looked up and told me "There are still two seats. The girls in front of you wanted to sit together, so they bought tickets for tomorrow's showing."

WOW, what a lucky break! I am so incredibly glad that I got to see the show, because it was awesome. Never before, had I seen a show that had all of the elements of art, music, comedy, video, and interaction with the audience!

Never challenge a Blue Man to a staring contest, you WILL lose

It's amazing that in only a couple of days, we'll be packing our bags and heading back home! I want these last couple of days to be the best so I can tell everyone back home all of the things we did and learned and how incredible this whole experience was!


  1. Great description. You may want to go into science writing.

    So glad you got to do Blue Man - quite a show.

  2. Jamie,

    What a coincidence! That fuel cell that you described is the exact same kind I use to power my Mac so I’ll always be able to blog. I just have a whole room full of them so I won’t have any brown-outs.

    I hope you know that I’m pulling your leg. I don’t have half as many as I claim to. ☺

    So you’re a Blue Man lover, are you? Good for you. Our Brown-II ladies have been discussing the need for diversity and acceptance of people who don’t fit into the normal molds we set up so I’m sure they’d love to bring your new friend into their mix.