Why Chemistry

When I was about 8 a friend of mine’s father had a telescope and was into astronomy. He gave me one of the instructional manuals that came with it, and I was hooked. At about 10 years old I found a book called The Search for Planet X in my class ‘library’. It was about the discovery of Pluto in 1930, driven by an unexplained ‘wobble’ in the orbit of another, known, planet. I was hooked on Science. I read books by Patrick Moore, and then found Isaac Asimov and Science Fiction. I noted that he was originally a Chemist, but didn’t know what that meant. I found an old book (from the 1920s I think) about electricity, and found it fascinating (coulomb charges et al). I have no idea now where the book came from, but still have it somewhere….I also remember taking a book out of the local public library on organic chemistry and having my mind blown by the concept of the homologous series.

At Secondary school I liked all Science (and almost everything else), but Physics was the King of Science. I wanted to be an electrical engineer. Even though my 6th form chemistry teacher was the best in the school (in my opinion) I went to University intending to become a physicist. In my first year I studied Physics, Chemistry and some Biology. This is when I realised that I didn’t really get Physics….it had collapsed into mathematics. Maths had always been important, but only as a set of tools required for the study of science. I didn’t grasp maths at an intuitive level.

So, when I realised that Physics rested on the shoulders of maths (and particularly when I saw the Maxwell equations), I knew it wasn’t really for me. Chemistry, though, came alive at University. It was grounded in the real world. There was the slight hiccup when Theoretical Chemistry appeared, and some parts of Physical Chemistry (both have lots of maths……more maths than chemistry, in my opinion), and I thought I might have to switch to biochemistry. But, it turned out that in the final year I could pretty much concentrate on Organic and Inorganic Chemistry, so that’s what I did. Then there was……organometallic chemistry (transition metals and organic ligands)……cool stuff…..organic synthesis, natural product synthetic routes….the stuff of dreams….and under it all, structures, pathways, colour and smells.

Chemistry, the Fragrance of Science.


3 thoughts on “Why Chemistry

  1. Ian Lynch

    I’d have been a chemist except for some really bad chemistry teachers. Chemistry was my best subject, but without any text books and no internet self tuition was out so I did maths, physics and biology A levels. Ended up doing physics but now much more computing and business. Definitely think a physics background has made keeping up with technology easier but I know people with physics degrees who are pretty clueless about computers so it isn’t just a given, you still have to learn stuff. Learning knew stuff for a purpose is what does it for me.

    1. chemistrypoet Post author

      I remember reading an article in Scientific American about the chemistry of colour as a teenager…now I think about it, I got the magazine every month…and we weren’t well off….the article was fascinating, but didn’t make me want to be a Chemist. It’s odd how things work out. I learnt about computers having to set one up from scratch during my postdoc; they all arrived with nothing preloaded…DOS. Macs were a revelation. Ah, reminiscing…..

  2. Pingback: A Map of the Invisible – Journeys into Particle Physics by Jon Butterworth | chemistrypoet

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