Thursday, January 20, 2011

THE experiment of my undergraduate career

... is making a standard curve. Today I came into lab, and we were prepping yet another standard curve. I wonder to myself: Is this what Chemists do? Are we always interested in identifying either the identity or concentrations of some substance? Is this only specific to analytical chemistry, or does it translate elsewhere?

Not that I would really mind, if that were the case. I'm really good at it, now. R^2 values are regularly .999whatever. Standard deviations are regularly quite tolerable, and this is all by hand. But I also keep on thinking: What can I do with these tools? What can I explain within chemistry with this experimental-theoretical framework? Is there really much left in chemistry to pursue outside of explaining things outside of itself, or improving the apparatusus to be more automated, more precise, more accurate, but not novel?

At conferences I've seen a lot of interesting computer modeling projects, where the standard parameters determined experimentally are shown to be able to be calculated from basic quantum mechanically based algorithms -- stuff like the change in gibbs, enthalpy, or energy contributions from solvents, solvent structures, and other modular neatness. But I can't help but think that there has to be some greater theoretical project than simply increasing the resolution of our models, improving the efficiency for identifying substances, or making more accurate estimations of important physical parameters. These would be termed core chemical projects. All other projects seem to involve elucidation of other systems for some other purpose, whether it be interest in a biochemical system, or improvement of some industrial practice.

But I'm stuck as to where, or if I tried something new if it'd even be interesting or desirable to try; PhD's earned in respected fields are likely more marketable, after all. I suppose I could memorize a few more reactions, and what they look like, to be better prepared to identify oddities when I see them, or have a handle on unexpected events at a more intuitive level. But I wonder: What novel thing can chemistry do today?

1 comment:

  1. An undergraduate myself, I always think about the future of chemistry, and science in general.

    I personally think that there are many more things to be discovered doing chemistry. But science is growing up, and MAJOR scientific breakthroughs will become scarcer. This is not a bad thing if you consider the number of bridging that has to be done between every discipline of science.

    It is likely that we will see the first synthetic self-replicating systems in our lifetime. Ground-up synthetic systems, not cells using foreign lab-made DNA. Chemists and biologists will have to bridge the gap between molecular biology and current chemical knowledge. Of course you can apply chemical theories to biological systems (osmotic pressure, pH, partial pressures, solubility constants et. al), but what is needed now is a bridge.

    How does information (the all-encompassing meaning of the word) generated from a simple chemical system lead to such breathtaking complexity as cells?

    Hmm... maybe that wasn't very clear. But you get the point!