Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Materials Girl: Living with chemists

Posted on behalf of Materials Girl

The past summer was a highlight for me, not only because of the research I did during my internship at a Large Company, but also due to the people I met there. In addition to co-workers being friendly and helpful (and the building wonderfully air conditioned in the 100+ degree weather), my fellow interns were exceptionally bright, scientifically minded (not just intelligent), sociable and interesting. Rarely have I lived or worked with students who could just as easily and happily talk about synthesis and characterization as they could sports and movies.

While attempting to strain pasta without a sieve, one [male] intern bemoaned the difficulty of the task and called for a desiccator. Any nerdy shirt that I wore would be appreciated, as opposed to causing strange looks to be cast in my direction. We could tie-break a card game by whoever most quickly stated the atomic mass of element ‘X’… And despite all that, we could be considered normal by the general public – we were musicians, collegiate athletes, cooks, a frat boy, and presidents of clubs unrelated to science. We attended midnight showings of movies, showed up for work half-asleep and visited tourist traps on the weekends. One of the guys drove well over 2000 miles in a truck, just to bring his plasma TV and Xbox.

I like to think that we dispelled the stereotype of chemists being smelly, wild-haired nuts in stained lab coats, or under-fed nerds living in library study lounges. Brilliance is hiding under the guise of normalcy, between talking about the awesomeness of molecular imaging and of playing Halo.

It’s now nearing the beginning of my fall quarter. I am once again one of the 1000+ students living in my particular residence hall. My roommate is a second-year music major, and we get along splendidly; lately we’ve united in griping about how obnoxiously loud the freshmen have been late at night – do they really need to “party” in the dorm room next door? Soon I shall be balancing senior year coursework and deciding whether to apply to grad schools asap (and what to study), or to take a year off and work…

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