Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cackling in Glee.

I actually can't muster up any of my lazy man's wit for this year's chemistry Prize - is it physics? Physical chemistry? Materials science? Just sublimely wonderful and scoffs at the narrow cognitive categories that spring up on occasion. It also emphasizes that as chemists, we have fellow travelers in numerous allied pursuits - remember, if we want to continue blaring the "we are the central science" mantra, we have to recognize chemistry of all sorts whatever its ostensible classification.

The comments at ChemBark brought up two questions in my mind -

(1) - what do we consider chemistry?


(2) - why did it seemingly not catch anyone's attention as a candidate for the Chemistry Prize?

I've mentioned - in the vein of Roald Hoffmann - that chemistry stands on the pillars of structure, reactivity, and synthesis. Anything that causes us to reevaluate our understanding of even one of those pillars is noteworthy, as quasicrystals surely did in terms of understanding structure. That they can also occur naturally would indicate that our understanding of geochemistry can stand some fleshing out.

Now, if you had asked me about quasicrystals yesterday, I'd have thought that they'd be a Physics Prize one of these years, given that most of what I had heard about them was through physics seminars I'd attended over the years. But it used to be that the gap between physics and chemistry was far smaller - Rutherford (he of the physics vs. stamp collecting joke) picked up his Nobel in Chemistry way back when, and van der Waals was a Physics laureate. This year's Prize is a nice throwback in that regard. I think there might also be something to the comments on ChemBark that solid state chemistry is something of an underexposed topic in undergraduate curricula here in the US, and many of us just don't have that proper background in the field (which is certainly my case - most of what I know is because I stumbled into having learn something about the field in grad school). There might also be an echo chamber effect going on in the chemistry blogosphere. ;)

Now to start preparing for next year's betting pool!

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