Tuesday, November 25, 2008

a small world

Agent NaNH2 took his seat in front of me. He was compact and powerfully built, and it wasn't hard to imagine him dispensing of his sodium with considerable effect.

"So, they tell me you're a killer base" I said.
"I live to steal from carbons..." he paused, then shook a hydrogen at me for effect.

"Look, we're about to go into court. I think its about time you understand that I'm going to be arguing your case in front of a room full of high-class carbons, I think there may even be some terminal alkynes in there...

What you need to understand is that the trial lawyer is a strongly acidic chap. While it may be tempting for you to bite for any hydrogen he puts under your nose, you are going to have to hold back so that I can have time to get in and kick off one of their leaving groups. Just hold your sodium, and we'll be fine!"

We took the next current into the courtroom. There, the Hon. Judge Krypton sat apart from the rather unkempt jury of water molecules who had so far been frustrated in their attempts to sit still.

My client came in under a heavy guard of sacrificial hydrogen ions, in case he decided to do anything drastic. Just as the court was starting proceedings, one of the younger water molecules in the jury hollered:

"It's too hot in here! I can't sit still!"
Judge Krypton ordered a massive nonane with a terminal oxoanion to come and H- bond with one of the disgruntled water molecule's hydrogens. After that, the courtroom came to order.

The judge briefly summarized the case, repeating only the barest facts for the enjoyment of the packed auditorium. Agent NaNH2 had been accused of disrupting the integrity of a massive carbon molecule by systematically deprotenating the carbon chain.

The case really hinged on whether Agent NaNH2 had been present in sufficient molarity at the alleged time and location of the incident. The prosecution cut quickly in this direction by attempting to produce a reprobate young pH indicator to corroborate the assertion. I countered by arguing that despite the evident neutrality of this hearing, the witness was blushing a bright pink, which demonstrated that he wasn't really a reliable indicator at all.

This objection was upheld by the judge, and the prosecutor was forced to change his tack. Suddenly, one of the bejewelled cyclohexanes in the audience swooned. I suppose they have neither the sense nor the stability of their relatives the benzenes.

Presently, an elderly and eloquent gentlechem stood up. He was known fondly in the community as LDA, but few of us knew if his reputation for forming amicable alkenes (across primary, secondary, and tertiary boundaries) in the community was commensurate with the appropriation of that grandiose identity.

"My dear Chems. Whether ye be reactive or inert, chiral or meso, s or p, or potentially come from an ozmolyzed family... do ye not think Markovnikov's rule a most despicable and shameless piece of fraudery ever yet or hereunto hither produced?"

This catalyzed a clash between the young leftist radicals who subscribed to the oxymercuration-reduction philosophs, and the older Boranes who were still quite opposed to the brewing thoughts of carbocation stability.

Judge Krypton, sitting impassive and inert, hurled a desperate young hydrogen in the direction of the hubub, which quickly silenced all contentions.

"It comes into my mind that our good friend the elder cyclopropane is enduring significant strain at the moment, and that a break would be in order." Judge Krypton now squeaked in an unusally high and insistent voice.

I wished, as I got up to turn off my alarm clock, that I could somehow have joined the elderchem cyclopropyl in his search for relief... neck-strain isn't the only kind of stress we share.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


This is a blog that describes my classes, which comprise roughly 16.45 % of my 24 hour / 5 day academic week. That figure is a distillation; to varying degrees, every college student lives in the classroom. βίος is greek for Bios, or literally, life. I am a Biology major.

Organic Chemistry:
"I will shave my head if every one of you gets these Lewis - Acid questions right on this test!" We laughed, but every one of us knew Dr. Barnhurst was serious.

Dr. Barnhurst is in his mid-thirties, by far the youngest professor in the third floor of Hickman science center. This floor has a reputation for professors who are cerebral and organized; above all, they are chemists. Dr. Barnhurst lives up to this reputation, and like all the other professors, adds his own unmistakeable flavor.

Within the first days of class, I was convinced that Dr. Barnhurst would do anything within his ability to help his students do well. I will never forget seeing him doing pushups alongside a student for an illustration (in class). His ability to communicate the material for this class is 100% talent, 100% sheer frenetic energy, and 100% effective. I'm still convinced.

Life and Teachings:
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: 12:00 - 12:50 P.M. Dr. Parker is from Zimbabwe, and his classic accent sets him apart in collegdale, TN. But it's not just the accent. I have come to admire Dr. Parker as a man with an exceptional ability to moderate discussions, as an incredibly deep thinker, as a genuine disciple -- talking about his master. I couldn't leave this class without mentioning my excellent seatmates in front row right, Tim Taylor, Shama Eller, and Allana Westermeyer. Dr Parker told me the other day that they had attempted to stall a class quiz on account of my being late from a Genetics exam. Thanks guys! (Dr. Parker let me take the quiz after class).

Symphony Orchestra:
Besides being required for the maintenance of my music scholarship, this "course" is pure stress-relief. Mrs. Minner, our conducter, makes our 75 minute rehearsels fun with a combination of inspired wit and a genuine understanding for how to make a group of inexperienced musicians play as an orchestra.

Joe Smart: "Yeah, I'm pre-med, and I'm planning to get an A++ in this class." It was a phrase that was starting to sound like a refrain. We were in our first genetics lab, and Dr. Azevedo had asked us to introduce ourselves (with hoped-for grade) as an ice-breaker. The atmosphere inside the laboratory was chummy, but contained an undeniable edge: we were all sizing each other up, and above all, trying to size up the teacher who we'd heard so much about... Dr. Azevedo.

For a class made up primarily of pre-med and pre-dent students, the first test average (67%) was hard to swallow. It was time to wake up to Biology-311.

Dr. Azevedo is, without doubt, one of the 5 smartest people I know. Her ability to take an extremely convoluted question, reduce it to its most constructive form, and then answer it clearly is nonpareil.

Dr. Azevedo is my favorite teacher of the semester. After all, she wears crocs. Incessantly.

Dr. "Art" Richert, chair of the mathmatics department at Southern, stood with arms folded looking intently at the blackboard. We were half-way through a class period that was dedicated to proving various trigonometric identities. Chalk poised restlessly in his fingertips, Dr. Richert maintained his silent vigil for a full five minutes. At last, he carefully placed the chalk back in the tray, and brushing his hands together, he said: "that is a beautiful thing." Dr. Richert had just made one of the most compelling arguments in favor of mathmatics: fully understood, it is beautiful.

To describe my classes, I have described my teachers.

This is,

after all,


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Jonathan & Timothy.





Special thanks to Andrew Fisher for letting us borrow his awesome camera!