Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Organic Chemistry as Magical Realism

Science will soon be experiencing a revolution. No more meticulous documenting of results, endless measurements, risky field sampling, accurate laboratory techniques, laborious charts, graphs, instrumentation calibration, blah, blah, blah. No more detailed analyses, background reading, thorough and impartial discussions of possible explanations. No more theories; theories are for wimps. It’s time for a change. It’s time for Fluffy Science.

Throw away those pesky microscopes, that annoying mass spectrometer (especially the dodgy one at my workplace), bury the Large Hadron Collider. A Fluffy Scientist doesn’t need such props. A Fluffy Scientist needs only the ability to sleep (perchance to dream), a crystal ball (although a mirrorball is equally – if not more – effective), a stash of high GI food, a woolly jumper, a four-legged companion and David Bowie’s album “Low” playing on constant repeat. Herein lies complete understanding and knowledge of the mysteries of Life, the Universe, Everything, and probably, some Other Stuff.

And, to herald in this wondrous evolution of Science (Darwin himself was not adverse to the occasional mirrorball gazing), I have started the much anticipated re-writing of my honours thesis in the style of magical realism.

So far:

original text:

“1-Methyl-3-dicyanomethyleneoxindole was obtained as a red-brown solid in low yield (28%) by treating N-methyl isatin with malononitrile in the presence of aluminium oxide, over a prolonged reaction time (72 hrs). The infrared spectrum of the product showed a weak nitrile absorbance at 2230 cm-1 and a medium lactam absorbance at 1723 cm-1, the carbon-13 nuclear magnetic resonance spectrum showed two nitrile resonances at 110.49 ppm and 112.23 ppm, as well as a carbonyl resonance at 162.38 ppm.”

magical realism text:

“The fumehood was thick with serendipity on the day the prophesied oxindole, known as 1-methyl-3-dicyanomethylene, floated into the laboratory in an ochre coloured corporeal guise. Three days had passed since the malononitrile, in an act of manic metaphysical subversion, and under the catalytic gaze of aluminium oxide, had mingled with the isatin (from the house of N-methyl). This mingling had partially (28%) transformed the unyielding isatin into the miraculous oxindole. There was much speculation amongst the alchemists as to whether or not the oxindole was real. Proof of the oxindole's existence was necessary, and was provided using spectroscopic instruments of the devil. The torture undergone by the oxindole, in the name of alchemy, was horrific. It was crushed, dissolved, subjected to infrared light and to strong magnetic fields. The oxindole, showing further evidence of its supernatural existence, withstood this treatment to produce a weak nitrile absorbance at 2230 cm-1, a medium lactam absorbance at 1723 cm-1 and two nitrile resonances at 110.49 ppm and 112.23 ppm, as well as a carbonyl resonance at 162.38 ppm.”


bro said...

fluffy science .. does that mean the science world is moving from a fact based .. er .. um .. science .. to a more speculation focussed "discipline". Sounds like they might be moving more towards the financial engineering model that investment bankers have been using ober the past decade ie speculating and not worrying too much about facts .. and we know that ended in tears!!

Nicole_Effulgent13 said...

I think the problem with the "Fluffy Financiers" was their bad karma - too arrogant and greedy - and they forgot to wear their woolly jumpers.

But it's a timely note of caution you offer, oh wise bro, to the Fluffy Scientists to be careful with their new powerful abilities.