Where It All Begins

For all that massive plant equipment, treatment is driven by results in the lab. Tell us about your analytical challenges and successes.

In college I had a choice. I loved to write. I also loved the sciences. At the risk of seeming less than modest, I will say I was quite good at both.

What I discovered after my junior year was that, as much as I enjoyed the intricacies of science, the concepts, the calculations, the sheer wonder of it, I hated working in the lab.

For one thing, I had this odd tendency, when doing experiments, to assume what the outcome “should” be, and to try and nudge the results in what I thought was the right direction. So some of the graphs and charts in my lab reports were in considerable conflict with the way the physical world actually behaves.

More than that, it wasn’t in my nature to be as meticulous as lab work requires. I just didn’t like measuring minute quantities of stuff on analytical balances, reading precise levels on a burette, making meticulous drawings of algae cellular structures seen under a microscope, using aseptic procedures in microbiology class, and so on.

So my choice was: writing or science? Except it really wasn’t a choice at all — I figured out that I could have both. I could work my way into a career in which I would write about science, or at least write about technical topics for which my background (biology minor, course work in chemistry, physics and calculus) would come into play.


Critical process

So it has been. I retain substantial respect for people who did become scientists, or teachers of science, or users of science, like wastewater operators. The more I’m around the industry, the more it’s apparent how critical the lab side of the business is.

In a way it’s remarkable: These massive flows come in and go through huge channels, screens, pumps, basins, presses and centrifuges — and yet the whole process is in the service of organisms we can’t see without magnification, and chemical reactions even more arcane and invisible.

The way all that water flows, all those gears turn, and all those blowers aerate is driven by results derived in laboratory instruments and test tubes. And so, Treatment Plant Operator is stepping up its emphasis on the lab.

The first of our “Lab Detective” articles appeared in May, and the second appears in this issue. The author is Ron Trygar, senior training specialist in water and wastewater at the University of Florida’s TREEO Center and a certified environmental trainer (CET).

We’re pleased to have Ron as a contributor. In articles every two or three months, he will explore different lab challenges and walk through analytical riddles.


What are your issues?

Of course, Ron has a full-time job and can’t write for us as regularly as we or he might like. So we’re asking you to help out. Send us ideas on laboratory issues that have been puzzling you. Tell us how you’ve used lab analysis to diagnose and solve problems.

You don’t need to be a brilliant writer. Just send me a note to editor@tpomag.com that explains what you did. I’ll follow up by phone. We can chat for a while and I’ll put a story together — or hook you up with a writer who can.

We’d like to report regularly on laboratory matters, and of course we want to provide information as timely and relevant for you as possible. So get in touch and tell us about your success stories, or your ongoing puzzles. We look forward to your contributions and the help they can provide to treatment operators across the country.


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