Hello my name is Ken and I am a science junky.

Since this is my first post on chemistry-blog.com I want to introduce myself with an explanation of why I am a scientist and, more specifically, a chemist.I can quit whenever I want!

Like most children, I was born with an insatiable curiosity to understand the world around me. This curiosity was expressed in an unending string of “why” questions. I recognize now that when adults did not have an answer for me they were uncomfortable simply saying, “I don’t know.” I found there are two common ways to get around the discomfort of showing a child your lack of knowledge. The first is the straight forward blow off of “It just is.” This answer only fueled my inquisitive nature and the voice inside my head responded with “They don’t know, maybe I can figure it out.” The second response is far more nefarious: the argument “You can’t really know anything.” Although there is some validity to this statement in the strictest definition, a deep epistemological conversation is usually not the intended outcome. The statement is instead a dualistic assertion that every claim has equal validity.

Is every claim equally true, just because we say it is? No. Reality simply does not work that way.

Living creatures accept that the universe has a systematic set of rules. We accept this basic premise, not because we want to or choose to, but because we have to. If not, every action you perform could result in any possible outcome. How would you function if you believed that flipping a light switch might change the density of water? Despite their best efforts no one really thinks that way.

A basic understanding of the inner-workings of the universe could be roughly described as common sense (don’t touch fire, what goes up must come down, etc.), but the process is much more formal than that. It is scientific method:

1) That is weird.     (Observation)
2) I bet it’s because of …     (Hypothesis)
3) If I do … then … should happen     (Proposed experiment)
4a) I was right!     (Hypothesis supported.)
5a) Now how can make money off of …?     (Create a new hypothesis)
or
4b) Crap!     (Hypothesis falsified)
5b) I bet it’s because of …     (New hypothesis)

When I was a child there was nothing more enjoyable to me than looking at something and asking “how does that work?” I reveled in coming up with an explanation and then finding I was right. Even today, as a graduate student, the hours of experiments I conduct to test one simple hypothesis (the results of which sometimes ends up as a single sentence in a paper) are worth the effort for the elation I feel when the prediction is correct. I could be best described as “testable hypothesis junky.” My desire to get a fix is the reason I am a scientist. So, why chemistry?

After dabbling in several majors as an undergrad, I took organic chemistry. I fell in love with the atomic/molecular world. At the time I did not understand the draw of such a hated – even feared – academic pursuit (you have no doubt noticed the response when you tell people that you are a chemist). It is only now after years of research that I am beginning to understand the allure.

Of the hard sciences, chemistry is a unique field that allows us to understand the perceived world around us. Using our chemistry knowledge we can conceptualize why an egg yolk hardens when heated or why the Hope diamond is blue. Cell membranes, hand soap, and a layer of gasoline on water can all be associated in the mind of a chemist simply by understanding molecular properties. I started to make a list of more day to day things that are related to chemistry but I decided against it. After I wrote several lines, a photon emitted from the semiconducting material in a light emitting diode passed through the aligned molecules in the liquid crystal display of my computer, eventually hitting molecules in my eye causing a cis to trans isomerization setting off a cascade of sodium and potassium ion pumps which eventually resulted in the realization that the list was just too long.

I have come to understand the root of my passion and now it is my goal to share it with others. The key is finding a way to reignite the curiosity of everyone’s inner child. All it takes is a tidbit of chemistry that is useful and interesting to open a window for others and help them foster a new perspective and interest in our chemical world. I am a firm believer that everyone is interested in chemistry. They just don’t know it yet.

4 Comments

  1. Several majors?

    • Started taking college classes when I was 15. Spent 7 years in undergrad. Graduated with ~180 credits (120 needed), 4 classes away from a quadruple major (mostly capstone stuff). Decided that chemistry was what I wanted to do.

      Athletic Training –> Exercise Science –> Biomedical Science –> Biochemistry –> Chemistry

      On the plus side I have had the experience of dissecting a human cadaver.

  2. This is brilliant, you have put into words something which I’ve been trying to explain to my family (mathematicians) for years as I feel exactly the same way as you about chemistry.
    Thank You

    • Thank you.

      If nothing else you could explain to them that when the Zombie Apocalypse (Zombpocalyps?) comes, their knowledge set would be pretty useless while you would be able to make TNT, nitroglycerin etc. When trying to convince someone of something it is usually a good idea to invoke the Zombpocalyps?

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