Chemistry Ice and Steel 

Sure enough, once again, it is October.

Loading hay in Surry, New Hampshire

We are bringing in hay and wood here at Water Run Farm; and we continue to harvest vegetables from the garden, including digging potatoes yesterday afternoon. The leaves are turning. Hurricane Matthew is spinning out into the Atlantic. And we expect our first frost in the valley this evening.

Hardwood Input

But this October there is a difference: we are spending a weekend in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at Lehigh University.

Blast furnaces at now defunct Bethlehem Steel

Soon after we arrive on Friday morning we find ourselves sitting in a large lecture hall with drowsy and coughing freshmen Chemistry students, including Nan, who is hard at work as a first-year engineering student. Nan is taking notes as the professor goes over Calorimetry—that is, measuring quantities of heat in chemical (or mechanical or electrical) reactions. The guy in front of us, however, is playing solitaire and checking his fantasy football standings.

Art installation outside Neville Hall on the Lehigh campus

After class, we walk down the hill for a coffee and a bagel. And as we stand in line, Rebecca chats up three freshman girls who play volleyball for Lehigh, each of them leggy and 6’2”.


At 11 AM we sit in on Nan’s calculus class and enjoy an animated professor move through a lesson on exponential growth and decay. He leads the students from a word problem to a picture, variables (or non-constant quantities), the equation for relating the variables, and the mathematics for solving the problem.


Unfortunately Nan is not feeling well after a week of “4 O’clocks”–in this case, the first of three Lehigh exam periods during each semester. So he heads back to his dorm room for a nap before his afternoon commitments and we walk around the beautiful hilly campus, and look over materials on display from the library archives, including early editions of Twain’s The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches, Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Thoreau’s Walden, and Audubon’s huge Birds of America.


As it happens, the morning chemistry lesson was preparation for a four-hour lab in the afternoon using a calorimeter. We drop in to watch the first part of the lab: the professor first offers an overview. Then the teaching assistants guide groups into the labs to do the work in pairs.


We then head down to the Steel Ice Center. We are taking in the first ice hockey game of the weekend—against West Virginia. Nan is in his first year playing forward for the Lehigh Hawks. And the play in Division 1 of the American Collegiate Hockey League (ACHA) is fast and furious. The game is close through two periods. And then Lehigh begins to pull away, winning 7-2.

Number 25 cutting around the net on the forecheck

Saturday morning we enjoy a breakfast with the parents of Nan’s roommate Ben at the Blue Sky Café. We then spend some time wandering about the Bethlehem steel mills. After a brief time in the museum, we take the self-guided tour on the catwalk that traverses below five huge blast furnaces. The scale of the furnaces and air pipes and pumps of the mills is awesome. We try to imagine the heat, the constant delivery of iron ore by railway cars, and the deafening sound of the air pumps.

Nan battling a West Virginia player on the boards

Then it is back to the rink for game two. The game is close and West Virginia is clearly worked up. The score is close all the way. After too much pushing and shoving, and too many penalties, West Virginia comes out on top in this one, 2-1. Lehigh take sits first loss of the young season and comes out of the weekend with a 4-1-1 record. Nan played well and his speed is an asset for sure as he begins his time as a college-level ice hockey player.

Huge flywheels and pumps at Bethlehem Steel

After the game we take Nan out to dinner over in old Bethlehem. We then visit his dorm before he gets to work on an essay for his English class. We hop in the car and head East to the GW bridge and then up to Norwalk, Connecticut, where we spend the night before heading home on Sunday.



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