Ask Sensei: Lazy Crazy Days of Summer Edition

As we approach the middle of summer, at least here in the northern hemisphere, it’s nice to be able to take some time out and enjoy the air conditioning. And for me, that includes reading your questions and trying my best to answer them. Other than that, I’m pretty much still in summer vacation mode, still wearing my “research” hat rather than my “teaching” hat. I often wonder what it must be like to have the same job year round.

Speaking of teaching, we have two of you asking questions via Instagram. First, asocial_ambivert asks, “Next year I’ll be in college, is it any more grueling than high school?” To which I am wavering between answering Yes and It Depends. Indeed it probably does depend somewhat on the courses that you choose. Ideally, in my belief, college is a time to learn how to learn at perhaps a higher level than you needed to do in high school. It’s about learning what competence in and mastery of a field of knowledge look like on a practical basis. My hope is that your professors will all challenge you to grow in these areas, regardless of the subject matter. Granted that I’m biased, because I believe that the subject I teach forces students out of their comfort zones, looking beyond simply getting through the exams (important as that may be).

On a related note, shiromeguri.meguri asks, “Two questions, 1) Favourite part of chemistry & least favourite. 2) What exactly is nano chemistry.” My favorite part of chemistry is the sub-discipline I teach, which is organic chemistry, the study of compounds whose properties are overwhelmingly determined by their high carbon and hydrogen content. It turns out that there are far more organic compounds known than inorganic compounds, which might seem hard to believe when you look at a periodic table and observe that there are well over 100 other elements besides carbon and hydrogen. Organic chemistry also figures very heavily in the chemistry of living systems, since large organic molecules such as proteins and nucleic acids have much to do with our daily experience of life on earth. My least favorite sub-discipline is probably physical chemistry. You are aware of how premedical students think about organic chemistry, correct? That’s how chemistry majors think about physical chemistry, except for the few and the proud who plan to pursue it as a career. It’s a field that, to this day, I think it would be good if I knew more about it, but have my doubts I’m capable of it. As for nanochemistry, while it is tempting to look it up on Wikipedia, I am going to state before I do so that I understand nanochemistry to be the study and synthesis of molecules that, due to their structure, can act as tiny machines. They can act like gears, or support rods, or tubes, or little drug delivery systems. It is an important and growing field, and another one I wish I knew more about. Based on the Wikipedia page, it looks like I got a piece of it, though I could wish their page included more structures. The American Chemical Society’s page is also light on visual aids. At Texas A&M, where I teach, we have a number of faculty who are active in this field.

Via Facebook, Joshua Rubley asks, “What setting would you like to see in anime more often that you rarely see? If you can’t think of an existing one, what kind of setting would you want to break ground?” In a somewhat related vein, Tyler Burnette asks, “Is there a historical setting relating to Christianity you’d want to see covered in an anime?” While it’s not related to Christianity as such, one setting that often draws me in is space. Besides the obvious choice (I refer to Cowboy Bebop of course), I also enjoyed series such as Planetes, Outlaw Star, and the original 1980s version of Legend of Galactic Heroes, currently coming out as a remake. I must make particular mention of Cowboy Bebop’s fascinating view of travel within our solar system, in a future in which not only the other terrestrial planets such as Venus, but also some of the moons of the gas giants such as Ganymede, had all been terraformed. While I personally am skeptical that we will ever master terraforming to that extent, at least in the foreseeable future, I would very much like to be wrong!
There are other questions that I would like to answer, but I’m conscious of the length of this essay. So until next time, enjoy the air conditioning. Unless you live in the southern hemisphere, in which case you probably wouldn’t enjoy air conditioning much right now at all.

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