Why I am not a chemist

OK , so I’ve told you why I didn’t become a biologist, but what about chemistry? That’s a pretty fun science area too. At school, I had a great chemistry teacher, and when I started university I thought there was still a small chance that I could be tempted away from physics towards chemistry as a degree and career.

That is, until first year organic chemistry classes. (As is common in first year science, I took a range of subjects). Organic chemistry fell into two sections, the lectures and the practicals. First, my summary of the lectures.

1. Organic chemistry neatly tells us what will happen when we react two or more compounds, one of which contains lots of carbon.

2. There are rules for working this out

3. However, there are exceptions to these rules

4. But that needn’t be an issue, because there are more rules to work out what the exceptions are

5. Though there are exceptions to the rules for working out the exceptions to the rules…

6. …which follow a rule….

Etcetera ad infinitum

Surely practicals put it all into context? Hmmm. I think not. The typical organic chemistry practical consisted of the following.

1. Mix three identical-looking colourless liquids

2. Simmer gently for two hours

3. Put a sample of the resulting gloop into an infra-red absorption spectrometer

4. Observe how the absorption peaks bear no relation to what’s in the textbook.

That’s it. Maybe it’s just my style of learning, but I just didn’t get any insight into what was happening and why. That’s what I like about physics – delving into how things happen and why.

You chemistry teachers and lecturers out there, please feel free to disagree and try to convince me that organic chemsitry is meaningful. Just click on ‘Comments’ below and tell me where to get off.

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