I will now narrate for you one of my more interesting water sampling experiences. I have chosen this experience to share with you because it reassures me that my job requires skills beyond being able to fill a plastic bottle with water.
To understand my story, I must first explain the anatomy of the apparatus we use to filter water samples in the field. It consists of a top and bottom chamber that sit one on top of the other. The opening of the bottom chamber is sealed by a circular plastic filter piece, which has a rubber O-ring that fits underneath it, creating a vacuum seal. The water sample is poured into the top chamber and is pumped through the filter into the bottom chamber with a hand-powered pump that is connected to a spout on the bottom chamber.
Now for my riveting tale. I was at my fourth site of the day, which is also one of the furthest sites from my starting point in Pittsburgh. I had collected my raw water sample from the river and my filtration apparatus was assembled and ready to go. I poured the water into the top chamber and, to my dismay, the water started leaking out of the meeting point between the top and bottom chamber. Not yet convinced that there was something wrong I tried again, making sure the top chamber was securely fixed to the bottom this time. The leaking ensued again…something was definitely wrong. Frustrated, I took the apparatus apart and investigated. It took me long enough, but I finally realized that the rubber O-ring, which creates the vacuum seal, was missing and nowhere to be found on the ground around me.
At this time, I did not have replacement pieces for the filtration apparatus with me. I went back to my car only to find that the rubber ring was not there either. I was more than an hour from Duquesne and wasn’t keen on the idea of going out of my way to find a replacement at a hardware store. Rummaging through my trunk I found that someone had put a pair of rubber gloves in the case that holds our YSI multiparameter probe. Upon reflection of this moment, I am editing in a light bulb appearing above my head, burning brightly with the brilliance of my idea. I used my car key to cut the cuff away from the rest of the rubber glove. I doubled it around itself and stretched it around the bottom of the plastic filter piece. With absolutely nothing at stake besides my own precious time and the prospect of being able to blog about this experience, I anxiously tested the effectiveness of the makeshift O-ring by filtering some DI water through the filtration apparatus.
Believe it or not…it worked. I would be lying if I said I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief when the water didn’t leak out of its container. My improvised O-ring worked like a charm for my remaining two sites as well. My takeaways from this experience: 1) Always have a backup for every piece of equipment when doing fieldwork, and 2) Never underestimate the power of laziness as motivation for resourcefulness.
Lauren Drumm is a graduate student at Duquesne University's Center for Environmental Research and Education. She is also an active member of the 3RQ research team at Duquesne University.