(P.S.: I know I promised a part 2 to the previous post but life happened.)
I am a Chemistry minor. (Cue dramatic gasps)
Chemistry is my kryptonite. I was never good at it, I never felt comfortable or confident working through the problem sets. Every time the exam time rolls around I have an impending feeling of doom, and I will inhale as much coffee as Elder Price in Kitguli (wink wink Book of Mormon wink musicals wink). There is something about the flowing arrows, the orbitals, the abstract structures on paper that are actually three dimensional that never clicked with me.
However, as a Pre-Health student I have to take Chemistry; I have to take not only Chemistry but also Organic Chemistry. I came out of those classes realizing how smart everyone seemed, and wondering if I was dropped as a child. However, with only one remaining class to fulfill a Chemistry minor, I decided to go for it. I bit my lower lip and closed my eyes as I chose CH431, Mechanistic Organic Chemistry, as my final science class of my undergraduate career.
I was ready for the worst. I mean, for someone who barely struggled through the normal organic chemistry classes, why should I expect to understand the sophisticated research done by the most renowned chemists around the world?
Here is the opening of a paper that we studied in class:
“Cyclobutadinene (CH)4, is the Mona Lisa of organic chemistry in its ability to elicit wonder, stimulate the imagination, and challenge interpretive instincts. No other organic compound combines such a fleeting existence and so many different synthesis, with such a propensity for different chemical reactions, and with the variety of calculations of its structure” (Cram, D.J.., Tammer, M.E., Thomas, R. (1991). The Taming of Cyclobutadiene. Angew. Chem. Int. Eng. 30(8): 1024-1027)
Look at the language. You can almost see him studying this unstable compound at a Sunday night, his window bearing the only dim light in the empty hallways. You can feel his sweat as he stared at the graphs from some machine under fluorescent light among test tubes, and see a roaring beast, a lion with a regal and golden mane to be admired, a wild horse to be tamed. You can hear his glee as he ran test after test and found a new frontier, and with chemicals as his machete, he chopped through tall trees of confusing signals from NMR readings until he found the treasure, the tiny peaks that characterize a tamed cyclobutadiene.
Organic Chemistry was hard for me because it is such a foreign language. As a high school student chemistry was straight forward and simplified, full of fill-in-the-blanks; as a college student, it is more about learning its grammar and trying to be creative with the material, having an eye to not let all the flowery pictures cloud you from the ideas. It is tough, at least for me. But hey, you never fail until you gave up.
But was it worth it? Yes, it was. To me learning chemistry was like learning art for some. I might never become a chemist, as many who major in art will never become an artist, but I acquire a taste for chemistry as people acquire an eye for artwork. When facing a masterpiece in my CH431 class, I can understand the intricate paintwork, the cleverness of the colors, the hidden motifs as Professor Das (CH431 instructor, funny and engaging professor, and one of the nicest person ever) take my hand and guide me. (Cue “A Whole New World” from Aladdin).
As someone who majored in Psychology, many a times I found myself confined into only one scope of knowledge, but Colby has always challenged me to look further. Through screenwriting classes, ocean biogeochemistry classes, classical music classes, I found myself enriched not only in a broad range of knowledge but an eye for things that connect to each other in the most unusual ways. The interconnections between differences were the basis of my application to the Watson fellowship, and even thought I did not get chosen, I planned a proposal that I am proud of, a proposal that studies how resilience can be built from so many interpretations of the same beliefs across the world from Bhutan to Ghana.
In CH431 we learnt about the argument between chemists bickering and defending their naming of a newly discovered molecule, and Professor Das told us that either of them could be right; this reminds me of the nature/ nuture arguments that eclipses every Psychology topic ever, and how it is only a matter of your perception as an informed scholar and how you contribute to the discussion. I see how researchers and experts from many disciplines are purely people who pour their love and soul into their work, much like you and me as we write a paper or engage in a class discussion. Ultimately knowledge is power, but more importantly, knowledge is passion. Discovering new territories is just the first step, what is more important is how you share this new world and what action you take.
I sit in my CH431 class like a child reading Harry Potter; even though I might be a muggle and a social science student, I can see the magic of Chocolate Frogs, of hemicarcerands, of the Nimbus 2000, of allenes and zwitterions, of Hogwarts, of Organic Chemistry.
So thank you, Professor Das; even though I will never be the model Chemistry student, you opened doors to a world that I thought I was not welcomed. Thank you, Colby, for giving me a liberal arts education that let me see the threads that holds the fruits of people in different disciplines together.
Study Chemistry, because why limit and underestimate yourself when the world of knowledge is for you to explore? Color outside the lines; color outside the paper!