Over the course of the past year, I’ve been immersed primarily in theoretical chemistry. Perhaps unusually, I discovered that actually find it rather enjoyable. The calculation of molecular energies and using those to find the stability of a molecule and the chemical reaction paths it might take holds a certain fascination for me. A glimpse, perhaps, into the fabric of the molecular universe.
Science has always enthralled me because I consistently find myself driven to know how and why things work. Being told that something happens because “it just does” was always inherently unsatisfying to me. In a similar way, science frustrates me when people present results but fail to even speculate as to how those results came about. I suppose, deep down, I’m primarily a physicist. The universe is full of physical mechanisms. Even those things we take for granted like sun and rain have mechanisms behind them (hydrogen fusion and homogeneous nucleation, to be precise). I like mechanisms. They’re what make the world behave the way it does.
The theoretical side of chemistry affords an interesting snapshot of this. Over the past year, I’ve managed to go from being completely nonplussed to feeling perfectly comfortable reading computational chemistry literature, which is a curious feeling, believe me. All the same, it simply won’t do to overspecialise. So I decided I’d make a list of things which I intend to spend some time working on over the course of the year. My weakest spot, alarmingly, is now the practical side of observational astronomy. A couple of areas of theory, I could do with brushing up on too (or simply improving the knowledge I already have). Practical work is fun…
- Telescope operation
- Ultraviolet spectroscopy
- Vibrational/rotational structure
- Submillimetre/radio astronomy
- Stellar astrophysics
- Astrophysics of AGB stars
- Astronomical data reduction
I suspect there’s more I should focus on too, but if I can spend at least the first six months of this year becoming as conversant with these topics as I now am with ab initio chemistry, I’ll be quite content with my progress. This is, I think, not an unreasonable expectation to have of myself.