Pchem is short for Physical Chemistry. It is hated by all. It is SO bad (the audience asks, “How bad is it?”), that it has it’s own bumper sticker!
Why is pchem so mistreated?
Like a scientific tax accountant, a P-chemist worries about the energetic balance sheet, the gains and losses of energy, the ratio of usable to unusable energy. We pull the thread through all states of matter – liquid, solid, gas, plasma, elastic, plastic, glass, etc.
My favorite subsection of pchem is symmetry and spectroscopy. Spectroscopy is the study of light interacting with matter. And symmetry is used to decipher these interactions. There is no better example of the mathematical beauty of our universe than the unexpected explanatory power of group theory as it applies to absorption and emission of light.
Fireworks, hair dye, crayons, ink, glow sticks, lightning bugs, and all the rest can be understood through pchem – specifically my field of spectroscopy.
There is much more to pchem. If you have made it this far, then you are truly curious. Therefore, I give you the table of contents
to a typical pchem textbook. (You will have to “Look Inside” at the Amazon site to view the TOC.
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“Mother Nature is a tough old bird” my undergraduate research advisor Dr Joe Lagowski was fond of saying. The only way to find the limits of nature is to try experiments that fail.
Sometimes it is the technology that fails. We recently purchased a 3D printer so we can print new measurement devices developed in our lab. As the failures mount and our recycled ABS plastic bin fills we are learning the precision limits of our Makerbot and ABS filament.
Sometimes it’s the people who fail. As we work through the patent process we find that some do not share our passion for the product of our efforts. Motivations vary, but we press on to the goal because to do otherwise would be worse than failure.
But on some rare occasions an actual limit of nature is found. These are the victories in failure. When the technological tools are working well and the people are qualified and alert a verified failure is a great result. To quote Lagowski once more, “No is an answer, too.”
Have you ever had a Successful Failure in science? Comment on it.