Posted in D L Williams, Philosophy

DW’s Favorite Quotes (and Why)

A work in progress

I continue to read and be impacted by the thoughts of others.

He who loves to read, and knows how to reflect, has laid by a perpetual feast for his old age. (Uncle Esek, “Scribner’s Monthly”, September 1880)

No idea who Uncle Esek is, but I have been infinitely blessed by the ability to read and reflect. I was extremely proud of my children when they read their first chapter books. I announced that from that day onward they would never be bored!

The underlying physical laws necessary for the mathematical theory of a large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely known, and the difficulty is only that the exact application of these laws leads to equations much too complicated to be soluble. It therefore becomes desirable that approximate practical methods of applying quantum mechanics should be developed, which can lead to an explanation of the main features of complex atomic systems without too much computation. ( , Quantum mechanics of many-electron systems, P. A. M. Dirac, Proc. R. Soc. Lond. A 

This is the charge that I have taken up in preparing a manuscript that teaches Spectroscopy in One Dimension. The book proposal is 90% completed, and I aim to send it to the publisher in late August.

Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in [sic]. (Leonardo DaVinci)

This was an epiphany for me. I realized that a huge percentage (>90%?) of my students could not learn chemistry because they did not desire the CHEMICAL KNOWLEDGE. They desired a grade, a checked box on their transcript, a degree, or a future job, but NONE of those things will help them with point groups, wave functions, phase diagrams, etc. To learn CHEMISTRY they have to desire CHEMISTRY. A large part of my job as a professor is awakening the desire for CHEMISTRY, thus opening their ability to RETAIN what they STUDY.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, 1948)

So much could be written about this quote, but it will get political very quickly. I’ll pare it down to one question. Are policies being made because they actually (with evidence and data) produce good outcomes, or are policies being made because they make the policy makers FEEL good?

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (C.S. Lewis, Is Theology Poetry? 1945)

Christianity is a World View as is Naturalism, Deism, Confucianism, etc. World Views are lenses through which one sees EVERYTHING. What is your world view? Why do you have it? How did you get it? Do you have reasons for keeping it? And what would it take for you to change it?

I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (Jesus of Nazareth, John 16:33)

I love this quote even though it promises suffering. The best quotes tell you something true. They are like an accurate compass. They point North ALL THE TIME, and as long as you have North, you can get un-lost.

Posted in Education, Philosophy, Physical Chemistry, Spectroscopy

Why Do I Love Pchem?


Pchem, how do I love thee?
Let me count the ways

1. Pchem connects abstract concepts to concrete reality.

The concept of the wave nature of light and matter is very abstract. It is not directly measurable. But the mathematics of interacting waves allows us to predict the interactions of light and matter. This is called spectroscopy.

Your eyes are pigment-based spectrometers detecting light at different wavelengths giving you the ability to perceive what we call color.

From these abstract wave equations we get concrete products like laser pointers and digital cameras. And I love it!

2. Pchem simulates natural phenomena well.

Some of the spectroscopic simulations I have seen in pchem have been truly amazing. To appreciate this, one may need a micro-course in statistics.

The R² value can be thought of as “how much scatter in the data is explained by your model”.

A decent calibration curve in an environmental lab or water quality lab will have a 99.95% R² value, meaning that the calibration model captures 99.95% of the scatter in the data.

The R² value for modeling the rotational-vibrational spectroscopic transitions in carbon monoxide is often 99.9996% or better. This means our pchem model for molecular vibration and rotation is capable of capturing over 99.999% of the variation in the data.  That’s crazy-good! In fact, this model is so detailed, we can tell how much the CO bond length stretches as it spins faster and faster. I love that!

3. Pchem transforms your imagination.

OK. So the wave function concept allows us to simulate nature and to produce exciting gadgets. But what IS the wave function, ontologically?

This is perhaps the most exciting thing about pchem. It transforms your imagination. I am drawn to think deeply about the wave nature of matter, the balance of Coulombic attraction and repulsion, the coupling of intrinsic angular momentum.

What IS the angular momentum of a WAVE?

Where IS the mass in a WAVE?

What (or WHO) sustains these never-decaying ground state wave functions?

Amazing questions for an amazing life of the mind, which is another reason I love pchem.