One year plan

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.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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4 Responses to One year plan

  1. invaderxan says:

    Oh! Sorry, I thought I’d replied to this!
    (oops!)
    So I have maybe three or four ways of learning things…
    Firstly and secondly, I guess I’m lucky enough to be able to get hands on experience at workshops and on observing trips respectively. Learning by actually doing things, I find to be the best way. If not by doing things then, at the very least, by looking over someone’s shoulder. Most of what I already know of data reduction, I know by looking over my officemate’s shoulder. I’m also rather hoping that a two week observing stint coming up is going to be a bloody good crash course in practical astronomy. Just like with any other kind of spectroscopy, the theory and the practical don’t always work entirely the same way. ;)
    Third is to have someone to ask about things. My default if I’m stuck with something is to find someone who already knows and pester them. Conveniently, everyone knows that feeling, so as long as they’re not too busy, they’re happy to help.
    Fourth and finally is by reading things. Lots of things. In virtually any subject, there’s a book somewhere which is a good “graduate-level textbook”. They usually assume a basic understanding and work their way up. the internet’s kinda useful in that too — it’s amazing how many lecture notes can be found using Google!
    Basically, a lot of it is like I’ve said in the past about dismantling things and then reassembling them to see how they work. It doesn’t work with all things, but in many cases, picking something to bits can be surprisingly helpful. :)
    Hope that’s of some use. Oh, and FYI, while I like to try and keep my actual blog posts at a general level, if you’re ever curious, I’m happy to get technical in the comments. Just so you know. :)

  2. In your experience, what’s the best way to go about learning these things? This looks like a good idea…it wouldn’t hurt me to try it as well.

  3. invaderxan says:

    Re: If you say so
    In truth, only three things on that list are completely new to me. I have no idea how achievable it will all be, but frankly, I’d rather push myself a little than get lazy, y’know?

  4. maxdwolf says:

    If you say so
    Looks like a pretty daunting list for 6 mo.s work to me.

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