Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chemistry Coaching

I know today has been a whirlwind of posts compared with a normal day, but a lot has been happening. To add to it all, I'm contributing an entry to the Chemistry Coach blog carnival, hosted by See Arr Oh of the blog Just Like Cooking.

Here are the questions, and my answers.

Your current job.
I work (ha!) as a graduate student in physical chemistry. I'm studying gas phase ion spectroscopy. Basically, I study the conformation of molecules in the gas phase using lasers. I'm also manage and write for the website you're reading this on: www.thecollapsedwavefunction.com. It's my nerdy science blog that keeps me sane. 
What you do in a standard "work day."
I do appreciate "work day" in quotations. My day (at least in the lab) usually starts around 9 am. I warm up the laser, which usually takes a couple hours to get everything aligned and in thermal equilibrium. While the laser warms up I read recent journal articles and write for my blog. I also play a liberal amount of "Star Trek: The Deck Building Game" with friends from other labs. 
Once everything is running well I start my experiments. This usually entails sitting in front of a computer for hours on end, pressing a button here or there every 2-3 minutes. I'm usually home by 8 pm, but there is a mattress in my office for those long nights in the lab. It may sound horribly mind numbing, but it can be very exciting. The greatest feeling you will ever experience is discovering something in the lab. It's an amazing feeling to be the only person on earth that knows something you just discovered. 
What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?
I have a B.S. in chemistry. I also worked for 2 years in the industry as a chemical lab technician. I don't recommend it. I'm hoping for a job at a university when I graduate (or after a post-doc).
How does chemistry inform your work?
Chemistry is my work. However, I really don't consider myself a chemist. I do very little actual chemistry in the lab. Most of what I do is analyzing very dilute samples of sugars, amino acids, or short chain molecules. I sometimes wish I was a particle physicist, but that's just because fundamental questions intrigue me so much. 
Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career*
I recently gave a contributed talk at an important conference. As part of it I was giving the history of the work I'm doing. As part of the history I mentioned the "founder" of the work. It wasn't until I was on stage that I realized it was a foreign name that I had never heard. I had only read it. I also became keenly aware that most people in the audience had a good understanding of what I was saying - meaning they would know the name of the person just fine. Saying his name was the most terrifying moment of my career to date (It turns out I said it right). 
A second one I just thought of: I crashed my bicycle going about 35 mph and gave myself some pretty awful road rash. A week or so after the crash I was aligning the laser and got the open wound in the beam. I now have the scar of a laser cauterized road rash. 

I hope something I said is of some help/interest to someone. If you have any questions, or just want to get future updates just "like" our Facebook page!