Materials Girl: Physics, summer school, and math – oh my!

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Posted on behalf of Materials Girl:

1. Ah, physicists. Ampere! Faraday! Biot and Savant! All undoubtedly brilliant, but to what extent are chemists required to know the laws so named after those individuals? I jokingly asked a physics-inclined friend to take a midterm on my behalf, and was answered with a resounding, “I don’t remember that magnetic crap” (Eloquent, that boy…)

Physics is indisputably my worst subject. Words such as “torque”, “flux”, and “vector field” fill me with dread, while classes in other fields have caused no major crises. Although the concepts in physics are simple enough, I rarely seem to derive solutions without help. (Interestingly, my Science of Engineering Materials course was very physics tuned, but caused few difficulties). I have yet to take physical chemistry, and am deeply alarmed by my inability to conquer physics-based problem-solving – an impediment that has not been rectified with extra tutelage and homework…

To the more experienced, have you had notable problems with physics, or any other prerequisite classes to chemistry? What did you do?

2. People have labeled me insane for taking summer classes, but it is a necessity if I am to graduate in four years. On the other side, what occupies a typical graduate student during the summer? Taking classes? Researching new projects? Procrastinating on writing theses? Sleeping and relaxing? Same old, same old?

3. As far as mathematics goes, I recently finished my last final in that field: differential equations! Great class – nothing beats interesting material taught by an articulate teacher with a sense of humor.

Quoting my professor, while he was demonstrating a problem: “Oooh, I forgot t’s.” After observing multiple blackboards covered with matrices in power series expansion: “Let’s just erase it in ‘e to the At’ here [near the beginning]. That’s better. It still works!” If only chemistry problems could be so easily rectified! “Oh, there’s a methyl missing in my product and all the previous steps – let’s just change the initial reactants and erase a bond over here…” Or, as my favorite o-chem prof always reiterated during exams, “You may NOT put five bonds on carbon!!”

Another question. How often do differential equations present themselves in higher level chemistry? According to the chemistry catalogue, only quantum mechanics includes DEs as a prerequisite. Hmm…

Go to the profile of Stu Cantrill

Stu Cantrill

Chief Editor, Nature Chemistry, Springer Nature

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