Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bootstraps Synthesis

One student actually did this for the OChem final, which I had the dubious pleasure of grading.





Footnote: I realized after writing this post that I made a subtle mistake in transcribing the problem in this blog which makes the synthesis impossible. Too lazy to change it. My bad!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


You know, the further I get in grad school the more I realize the value of starting problem sets and projects way ahead of time. This isn't just because these things inevitably take longer than you think they will; it's because with truly difficult problems (like complex syntheses!), you can't just conjure up complicated solutions on-the-spot like some kind of scientific magician. Much like unicorns in some magical forest, they have to come to you, and they won't necessarily do it while you're actively looking for them. So inspiration tends to strike at odd moments, after your brain has had some time to unconsciously shuffle around the possibilities.

Cashier: Welcome to McDonald's, may I take your order?
Me: I'd like a small chocolate shake, please, and also a medium drink.
Cashier: All right. Will you be having anything else this day?

Apparently some chemists have even been known to think up crazy new ideas in their sleep. I aspire to one day join their ranks!

Monday, March 14, 2011

So about that final project I've been working on...

So I'm not finished with my proposal yet (due this Wednesday.) BUT!

I have figured out how I'm going to go about it. The breakthrough came early this afternoon, when I realized that in order to do what I'm going to do, I'll have to go about the whole problem in a way that all the other researchers working on it hadn't attempted. I would have to go beyond the impossible, perhaps even to the extent of kicking reason to the curb. That's not to say there aren't a few details I haven't worked out yet, but I'm well on my way to finishing this bad boy, and I am really quite happy about that.

I don't care what grade it gets; I'm proud of what I've accomplished here, and I don't care who knows it. In it, I've successfully walked the line between what the useful and the possible, and soon, I shall reap the rewards of my glorious ingenuity.

Feast your eyes, ladies and gentlemen!

My professor's gonna be so impressed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

More of an obsession than a fear, I guess

So very many adults seem to view childhood in general as a halcyon period of carefree splendor, where we frolicked in the rain and where our main worries were getting found out in neighborhood games of hide-and-seek.

But this was not so.

I'm pretty sure most of us as children had some kind of odd, morbid fear. Some kids were afraid of the dark, and some were plagued by nightmares. Some were afraid of the school bully. Some kids felt dread at the yawning chasm of deeper mathematics, afraid that the inhuman truths residing within make a mockery of all our mortal fears and hopes. But not me; I myself had a particularly active imagination, and found something even more horrifying than that:

The fear of gravity itself.

I'm not sure how this came to be, but I have really vivid memories of staring up at the Space Needle here in Seattle, and thinking that if gravity suddenly reversed itself, I'd be utterly boned. Best-case scenario, I'd be able to hurl myself into the side of the space needle, scrabbling madly to control my descent (ascent?) enough to land on the underside of the disc at the top of it, whereupon I could wait out gravity's temper-tantrum, like it was some sort of capricious fairy who'd get tired of toying with me eventually. To me, of course, these speculations of what might happen after The Event were purely academic-- the important thing was to make sure that when it did happen, I could find a way to not fall eternally into the endless sky.

I never spoke up about it back then-- even as a kid, I knew this fear was kinda ridiculous-- but during each of my outdoor excursions, I always found myself calculating in a coldly rational fashion which way I should try to angle my imminent fall upwards so as to possibly survive the impact.

On the plus side, theaters were rather comforting. They felt like little safehouses where the worst that could happen is that I'd get a little bit banged up when I hit the ceiling. Bring it, gravity, I'd think, while the actors frolicked on stage. Give me your best shot. I want you to hit me as hard as you can. Gravity never rose to the bait, though. Coward.

Curiously, even though this fear (like most of my other childhood fears, such as of giant arachnids and of nuclear warfare culminating in my instantaneous annihilation) died away at some point, I still on occasion find myself staring up at high ceilings and calculating what the most comfortable landing point might be. I'm sure you readers are all like, "P'shaw! Science has shown us that gravity never reverses herself." But no, don't you see? The more I'm exposed to science, the more I realize that science can only ever claim that we have not seen Gravity reverse herself, in a replicable fashion and in a laboratory setting. Science isn't taking into account that maybe Gravity's just biding her time. Waiting for me to let my guard down. Well she can just keep waiting.