Materials Girl: Moving in

Mar 27, 2019
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Posted on behalf of Materials Girl:


This is the first part of a three-post series

Less than two weeks ago, organized chaos descended on campus as 9,000 undergraduates relocated from their homes to the dormitories. Those of us who volunteered as Move-In Assistants (MIAs) came early in exchange for “slave labor”, providing a smooth transition for the incoming hordes by decorating, hauling, directing, etc.

An MIA’s duties include giving shuttle tours for incoming families. This includes an inquiry of the incoming students’ majors, which inevitably results in a nervous, energetic chorus of “Undeclared!”, “Psychology!” or “English!” The mood is occasionally lifted by a dour proclamation of the intent to enter engineering, or even pre-med. Alas, it seems that the breed of chemists here is dying out in the wake of humanities, engineering, and – horrors – biochemistry!*

Stating my own major tends to draw blank expressions – we may as well be aliens from the planet Tetraphenylcyclopentadienone.** Freshmen, especially, seem to hold in awe anyone who studies any branch of chemistry, and others haven’t a clue what materials science engineering even is.

Having not attended school in the traditional fashion, I am at a loss to guess why there exists a relatively small number of chemistry applicants arriving from high school. What are they teaching before university? Have the ranks of chemists always seemed few? Hopefully, that is just the case at this one California school, and the land of chemists thrives elsewhere…

Seriously, they are all wonderful, but the ratio of biochemists and chemists is approximately 3:1 and feels like 100:1 – even less with materials chemists. The all-knowing *cough Facebook search at my school lists a mere 13 Chem/Mat-Sci majors, two-thirds of which are grad students.

**C29H20O, because that was the first interesting compound I synthesized during freshmen year. (Nothing soothed my nerves more than seeing fine, beautiful, dark purple crystals appear out of an unfathomably dark solution). Plus, the name is just cool. Say “tetraphenylcyclopentadienone” ten times fast.


Stu Cantrill

Chief Editor, Nature Chemistry, Springer Nature

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