Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Materials Girl: Flights of fancy

Posted on behalf of Materials Girl

Similar to a theme from last summer’s post while I was on vacation, it seems that chemistry never escapes notice. (No surprise there, considering that the world revolves around chemistry – or so we’d like to think. That point is argued here).

The view during take-off on a Boeing 737 rather strikes me as the opposite of studying chemistry. At least, certain aspects of it. Research in the field of chemistry tends to delve increasingly into the small scale, from materials, nanoparticles, and molecules down to atoms, electrons, etc. Chemists will keep zooming in until we find all the answers (and it’s not 42). On the other hand, watching the ground fade to 10,000 feet allows passengers to see massive structures and cities disappear – objects in macroscale are zoomed out until the ground resembles a 3D topographical map; I’m currently watching Silicon Valley disappear into a green and brown mountain range. Technology and science never cease to amaze me, no matter how large or small they go…

It seems that the mindset of any avid scientist boils down to a similar theme – a curiosity and amazement with little details and undiscovered subtleties of the world we exist in. Nowhere outside of the lab would I hear my fluorescent nanorod solution be described as “pretty” (people at home tend to just see some bright yellow liquid in a glass container). In few situations are TEMs, AFMs, and sometimes even NMRs described as “gorgeous” or “awesome”. It has been a wonderful summer for me as I’ve basked in the world of research and worked with great minds. In several weeks I shall return to school, bringing with me unique experience to apply towards continued labwork. Senior year should be interesting.

P.S.: Interestingly – in relation to Retread’s recent post, one of my fellow interns this summer attended the same intensive summer music academy that I did – one that does not accept students who are “soulless automatons producing mechanically perfect music”. It appears that being a decent chemist is compatible with being a decent pianist…


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    Retread said:

    Impressive that you and your friend were good enough to get in. I doubt that my pals and I would have made it in as teenagers (even Dr. Gould). This brings up the notion of talent. All musicians agree that degrees of musical talent exist and that some have more than others. Mathematicians have no problem with the concept of mathematical talent either.

    So is there such a thing as chemical talent? See the 5 Mar ’08 Chemiotics post “Is Math Harder than Organic Chemistry” for some thoughts on this. Perhaps the existence or nonexistence of chemical talent is worth a future post.

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    MG said:

    I’d definitely say that chemical talent exists, since not everyone is a chemist at all or a chemist who produces a lot of good work. There’s naturally understanding technical and textbook material (although that could be written off just as intelligence). Then there’s laboratory technique which might be physically – how steady hands are, and mentally – on the spot problem solving and tinkering with minor details, etc. I’m sure you could go on in a post. 🙂

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    psi*psi said:

    Lab hands are one thing, and arguably easier to develop than a solid understanding of the science involved…there are amazing theoreticians out there. I don’t care if they’re useless at the bench—I’m completely in awe of their work.