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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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September 13, 2006

Spectroscopic Days

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Posted by Derek

Talking about my old optical spectroscopy class brought a couple of other things to mind. One of them is that I have never used a good solid 95% of the material I learned there, ever again. Not even once. I worked on a big ol' honking normal coordinate analysis for a class project during that time, and looking back at it, I'm shocked to see the stuff in my handwriting. I supposed there must have been some benefit to learning all of this material, but it is a benefit that time has managed to obscure.

The main thing I took out of the class was the incident I spoke of earlier in the week - hitting the wall of what I had already learned or could pick up on the fly. I'd been warned for years, while growing up, that I was going to have to buckle down and study someday, which news I absorbed in an abstract sort of way. I thought that the prediction had come true in college, but in those courses I could still show up unprepared and understand what was going on. This spectroscopy class was a different order of experience, and a useful one. Fortunately, I left academia before running into the experience of a subject that not only could not be understood in real time, but couldn't be understood after long and careful thought, either. I am reliably informed that they're out there.

The other result of the class was the following work of art, which I composed one day in lieu of doing the assignment. I posted some of this a few years ago, but many readers will not have seen it. It is, of course, a parody of Lewis Carroll's White Knight's song from Through the Looking Glass, which is in turn a parody of Wordsworth, who seems to have tuned up many parodists to concert pitch.

He waved his hands and asked me why
Some peak would polarize
But I was thinking of my lunch
And looked up in surprise.

He then showed me a diagram
And I found to my shame
I didn't know what good it was,
And couldn't say its name.

And if now I chance to put
My tongue in super-glue
Or madly cram my chiral foot
In its enantiomeric shoe,
I weep, for it reminds me so
Of that old class I used to know,
Of ligand fields and planar nodes
And symmetries of normal modes.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Graduate School


1. daen on September 14, 2006 4:56 AM writes...

Apropos of Lewis Carroll and the White Knight's Tale and Victoriana in general, I recall that one of my favourite words for many years was "antimacassar". In these more modern times, of course, that signal honour must be awarded to the word "plinth".

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2. The Disgruntled Chemist on September 17, 2006 12:52 AM writes...

Fortunately, I left academia before running into the experience of a subject that not only could not be understood in real time, but couldn't be understood after long and careful thought, either. I am reliably informed that they're out there.

My third quantum mechanics class was like that. Nonlinear optical spectroscopy. The professor decided that he'd spend the first couple weeks of the class introducing us to a representation of space that none of us had ever used before, and then taught us about quantum mechanics in this new framework. Just the mention of Liouville space makes me shudder.

Oh, and even though it was a required class, I haven't used the information since, either.

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3. eugene on September 20, 2006 1:21 AM writes...

Thing is, real Group Theory is a lot harder than those chemistry books titled just that would let on. I doubt any of the professors that teach those courses know much about Group Theory as well as an inorganic symmetry class can still be pretty much intuitive if you're into math. Symmetry operators and IR and Raman modes are a breeze compared to a real math book on Group Theory. Of course, it could be because I always gave up after the first chapter...

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4. anna on November 11, 2009 1:30 AM writes...

hah. I remember sitting down to do homework for an undergrad inorganic class, and I asked a math major friend of mine some question about whatever we were doing with point groups. He was of course entirely unable to help, but looked at it, and said "wait a minute, that stuff is *good* for something???"


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