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Science can be fun for scientists. April 15, 2017

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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In talking to high-school friends online about my career, 2 incidents that highlight the different attitudes of scientists came to mind.

Once, a well-known European colleague was in San Francisco for a conference. He wanted to meet and talk of each of our research programs and exchange ideas and maybe set up a collaboration. I rode the local rapid-transit train, BART, over to downtown San Francisco and walked to his hotel. We decided to pick up sandwiches at a deli across the street and walk to Union Square, where (then) there were many park benches in an oasis of sunshine among the many tall building.

We sat, ate, talked back and forth on our mutual interests in various fields – synthesis, spectroscopy, physical organic chemistry, some related quantum chemistry – for about 2 hours. The latter hour coincided with the noontime lunch hour and the park had filled with office workers on their break. As we were wrapping up, a group of 6 to 8 young women who had been sitting next to our bench walked by. One stopped and said “We did not understand anything of what you were talking about, but it sounded so fascinating.”

Another time was at a conference. I had just synthesized a new compound and done some preliminary work on it. It was a very weird one in many ways. It had a lot of steric strain, where the atoms were too close in space to each other so that repulsive forces cause the bonding framework to bend to reduce that. Normally, this molecule’s class of compounds would do this by a twist in the structure. A theoretically-possible alternative of folding at that point usually required much more energy and did not happen. But for this one structure, the folding was only a miniscule amount higher. So at room temperature there were both structures present in a solution of the comound, interchanging from one to the other and back. This gave the compound some odd properties.

At the conference, between sessions of talks a group of several well-known scientists in the study of the types of compounds gathered over coffee. I described my new compound. The others all replied with “Could you send me some to study…?” the blank being a technique they did. The interplay and discussion was fantastic. We were like a bunch of children with a new toy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

normally, the type of mole

 

 

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