Monday, February 18, 2013

Time for Chemistry to Get Religion

"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things" Mark 6:34

Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” Acts 8: 30-31

And then there is this on the CNN Main Page today:

I have posted on this topic before from a different perspective but In the Pipeline raised the issue today by asking "If you had to build out the chemistry hallway at the museum, then, what would you fill it with? Suggestions welcome" and it has been taken up by others in the chemblogosphere (read comments). The issue seems to be that museum chemistry exhibits indicate that chemistry is seen as old and static. If I understand the nature of the comments it would appear that museums would be forced to create exhibits that a) require consumables and maintenance and b) are dangerous and generate hazardous waste that would have to be dealt with in order to create chemistry museum exhibits that are memorable and chemical. Yes, that is it exactly chemistry is all about: explosions and toxic waste, why don't we just live up to the stereotypes?

I think we all know that the very aspects of chemistry that drew us to it as a discipline are not museum friendly. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't try but we need to be grounded in real world practicality.

No, we in chemistry need to get religion. The kind of religion that permeates our lives and cause people to ask why we are different. The kind of religion where it is the responsibility to all of the members to be totally convinced that spreading the good news of chemistry is crucial to our development as a society. We need to be willing to adopt the attitude in the two bible passages above. To find teachable moments everywhere and be unfailingly positive in our message that chemistry unveils a separate and vital truth.

There was a time when it was actually like this and the example to us all was Michael Faraday and his public lectures. If we really think that the subtle truths of chemistry can be communicated by static posters then you have never been to an ACS poster session (cattle in a feedlot are treated better and have more space). If you think that making spectacular science "safe" by putting a layer of safety glass between the observer and the experiment is the way to go then history has been a poor teacher. To paraphrase Jurassic Park "entropy finds a way". No not safety glass, we need to be between the observer and experiment. We all need to be shepherds and explainers.

PS for the record if we are going to create chemical museum exhibits with consumables and maintenance details then one would have to consider the Miller-Urey Experiment as the most accessible "God Chemistry" for all it's flaws.


Chemjobber said...

Perhaps the issue is this: depending on which modern denomination you buy into and which texts you emphasize, it is either important, very important or eternally important to tell people about Christianity. (perhaps I overstate.)

Does chemistry have a Great Commission? I don't think so.

Should there be? Maybe.

Liberal Arts Chemist said...

Wow, that is actually quite insightful. I would have thought in the post-Darwin age that all sciences have an evolutionary mission in "Thrive or Die". What you say is true in that we are a socialist meritocracy without a leader to give the a call to arms. Huh. When was the last time that we had a visionary leader in the ACS? Pimentel?

city said...

thanks for share.

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For a while it was all about research and then it was all about teaching and now it's all about trying to find a balance while teaching at a small liberal arts and science university.