Our ESR at the University of Turin, Neha Mehta, has written a post about the responsibilities and opportunities we have as scientists. We hope you enjoy it!
While mapping locations of samples on my computer, I found myself sitting and pondering the last sampling trip. I have been on many trips in the last year, for collecting mining waste dotted over mountains, for working with soil near the waste, and to collect water samples (to find out if the water was using perseverance and hard work to slowly dissolve the metals around it and carry them large distances, or if the metals were loyal enough to remain attached to the rocks and not fall in love with ions in the water).
Sampling feels different in different seasons, and this was first time I had done it in the autumn. I went with Giorgio and we were joined by Scolari (an employee from Comune di Gorno, Lombardy). We were there to sample water springs and water from mining tunnels that would reflect the level of metals in the background and in contaminated water.
When I got out of our car, I could see colours in the mountains that were not evident when I had come earlier in the year. Apparently it was views like this that made the author Jim Bishop write “Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”
How meticulously nature paints itself. When I was taking pictures of the sample site, I could not stop myself taking photographs of mountains and the paths decorated by leaves.
The ecstatic feeling soon disappeared when I started walking in the mountains to collect samples. The leaves and water made some of the locations slippery and so scary that we were all walking like tortoises even with proper shoes. Leaves that hide holes beneath them; leaves on plants and around that hide the water source itself. I kept on repeating to myself “Slow and steady wins the race, slow and steady wins the race” as if it was only this hymn that was saving us and our instruments from falling down; and we kept on walking.
The area had a plethora of flora and fauna: we came across cats, dogs, horses, big and small mushrooms, a donkey, salamanders, goats, and cows grazing on surrounding fields, appearing here and there and sometimes walking with us until either of us changed path, as if they were keeping us company in our work that could lead to the betterment of not just human life but also the local environment, perhaps thinking ‘How weird these human beings are, they do not know how to walk properly even with shoes!’ or maybe just looking at us and getting busy in their chores again.
At this point someone reading this might wonder if I was collecting samples or taking photographs. Where are the samples? Where are photos of sampling locations? In case you failed to notice, look again at the pictures. The team walked to long narrow tunnels used for underground mining of zinc and lead.
The tunnels have their own stories on how men used to drill along the tunnels and cut the rocks, and women used to segregate the rocks with minerals from other rocks. Tunnels that silently roar ‘Oh you! You are also one of those who want to have everything, but do you really stop for a moment and try to imagine the effects of mining on workers, the backbreaking work and the precision through which it passed; the chemicals that were used to wash those rocks?’ How neophiliac and shortsighted we really are: we look at something, buy it, use it, and forget it. It cannot go on.
Someone like me must come and show the pictures, trigger the cognitive process again, shout if we are not paying heed. No matter how much we try to overlook our footprints and try to remain caged inside our own comfort zones there will be something which will come in different forms in front of us. Therefore, we need to find answers for our own benefit, for ourselves to have peaceful sleep in night. We cannot leave all kind of marks on earth and go on Mars or the moon to live happily ever after! I was experiencing centuries in a few minutes and using knowledge of every discipline I have come across. History, chemistry, geography, geology and environmental engineering were all in my head.
Then I suddenly remembered words of wisdom from my mentor Professor Domenico De Luca: “Neha, passo dopo passo [step by step]! When you get emotional while you are doing research, remember just one mantra. Take a deep breath and move forward with just one step. Do not think too much and keep on taking every small step you can.”
After all the conversations inside me stopped, I took the smallest step I could take at that moment, and continued measuring electrical conductivity, the temperature and other physiochemical qualities of water.
Here are some bonus pictures from the sampling trip. Do not forget the lesson… ONE SMALL STEP !!!