Am I a Chemist or Biologist

The practice of science and the practice of teaching science at a college level have an unusual disconnect.  In the college realm we have to be highly qualified in order to teach a subject, according to the Higher Learning Commission (HLC, the body that accredits most Midwest colleges and universities).  However, as with most administrative demands, the definition of highly qualified is a bright-line definition.  In the case of the HLC, the definition of highly qualified  is that you have an earned degree within the field one step higher than the highest degree in your program (a Masters Degree in the the case of Jackson College) and have taken eighteen graduate credit hours of classes within the discipline you are teaching.  In actuality it is a pretty low bar (most graduated programs are 30+ hours and very focused on the discipline), and is mainly there to prevent less than ethical decisions of running a class with a “warm body” in front of it simply because you can fill the room with students.  The requirement itself is a response to decisions made by administrators during the enrollment boom of the late naughts and is not onerous at all (though adjuncts who can not longer teach because they fail to meet the new bar would disagree).

So where does this conflict with science as a practice? Actual science is rarely bound by neat lines that separate one discipline from another.  Most researchers have dabbled in many fields of science during the course of research simply because a question comes up in their work that falls outside of the classic questions of their field.  I’ll use my own training as an example.

I earned undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and Biology.  Now an undergraduate degree really doesn’t do much to qualify you as a scientist (sorry to burst your bubble guys) since it is mainly focused on overall education (the out of department requirements) and content mastery of the basic corpus of knowledge for your chosen field.  Even if you do research as an undergraduate it is typically very guided and the project was selected for you by your mentor (with them knowing you had a good chance at success).  So while you finish your Bachelors of Science degree with good content mastery and basic critical thinking abilities, your true growth as a scientist comes in graduate school.

In the mid Nineties, when I started graduate school at Duke University, interdisciplinary studies  were all the rage.  Biomedical sciences had particularly embraced it an new degree programs in everything from Cancer Biology to Biological Chemistry were being started.  I entered Duke as a Biological Chemistry major, meaning I didn’t have a department but rather an overarching theme to my studies and my department would be decided by which mentor I chose.  Coming out of undergraduate I leaned heavily towards the Chemistry side of my education and so I focused my initial studies in grad school, and my course work, in that arena.  In the first year I took courses in Medicinal Chemistry, Reactive Organic Intermediates, Organic Compound Spectroscopy, Advanced Organic Synthesis, and various Biochemistry related courses.  During that time I also rotated through various labs to get a feel for their research and try to find a mentor fit.

Typically you go through three rotations and then decide on a mentor from those choices, but I never found a fit that worked for both of us, so I did five rotations.  I eventually settled on Dr. Phil Hanna’s lab because I thought anthrax sounded interesting and he was a young mentor.  His youth, he was himself brand new to the job as a Professor, meant that he was energetic and, more importantly to me, willing to entertain ideas of where the research should go.  The freedom meant that I had a lot more say over my graduate research and as such I could go far afield from the norms of the field when I thought it needed it.  Being mainly a chemist, at this time, I brought a different viewpoint to a microbiology lab (plus I had to go and back-fill some course holes) and slowly my bona fides as a microbiologist came into focus (my official department was microbiology).

This story is to show that science, as a career, is often not pigeon-holed into any single field and the department designation on a degree may not accurately describe your job.  I meet the HLC requirements for both Chemistry and Biology, but many times I end up having to explain that because in education we like the nice certain boxes for accrediting form.  Always think about the questions you want to ask and look for the tool that best answers that question, even if it is outside your current wheel house.  You can always learn a new idea, even if the course designation is different than your official field of study.

Anti-Intellectualism as a Positive?

As a scientist I am often baffled by the rampant anti-intellectualism in everyday discourse.  The last few years have seen a rise in this behavior, and more over a lionizing of proponents of this viewpoint.  Is this a new phenomenon?  I don’t think so, but at the same time I think it has changed and become something more dangerous as of late.

When I was a kid there were definitely things that were not common knowledge for the greater populace.  Having grown up in mainly rural areas it was very common for me to be more informed about many issues, even compared to adults around me.  I credit my mother, a well educated liberal arts major, for having fostered a deep and early respect of learning within me.  However, there is one huge difference between then and now, the extent to which the general populace considered themselves uninformed.

If you had talked about vaccines to most adults in my youth they would have been for the use of vaccines and seen them as a public good brought to us by medicine.  They would have no clue how they worked, or a rudimentary view at best, but wouldn’t have questioned their use.  This wasn’t laziness or complacency, but rather the product of an information filter.  Most people didn’t have the technical knowledge to understand the theoretical work that had gone into the development, testing, and use of say the tetanus vaccine, so they relied on someone they respected, and expected to have knowledge in the field (their doctor typically), to distill the information down, sort through misleading information, and provide them with a clear, understandable, and accurate description/evaluation.  They saw this as one of the roles that content experts provided in society.  One of the reasons certain professions (doctors, lawyers, etc.) were to be respected was due to their study and understanding of complex systems that most people didn’t have the time, or drive, to dig deeply into.

Enter the age of the University of Google, where we have the sum total of human information at our fingertips.  Much like the printing press and common language translations of the Bible helped to democratize religion in Europe (leading to the Reformation), the internet has democratized information in general for this time period.  However, without the content filters of our past people tend to treat all information as having equal value, a premise that can easily be disproved. Everyone considers themselves to be the arbiters of truth and modern social media gives all the podium to spread their “interpretation” of the facts.  Combine this with selection and confirmation bias (the “echo chamber”) and we get a cacophony of voices, with varying levels of understanding.

Were their pseudoscience advocates in the past, sure.  Did they have a public outlet, sure (less so, but sure). I think the difference I see is that the general public has gone from thinking their are experts in fields that should be consulted when the ideas are beyond the normal realm of experience, to an inherent distrust of the “establishment” and assumption that all views are valid if they are on Google.  Political Parties use this to their advantage because it feeds into Identity Politics (both sides).

How do we reverse this trend?  Honestly, I have no idea.  It saddens me every day to hear somebody quote disproved “studies” about the ill effects of GMOs or the dangers of mercury in vaccines (hint, there isn’t any).  Likewise, the denial of Climate Science and Evolutionary Theory (which both play into disease spread in our modern world) from the other side endanger our very species.  All I can do is be the “candle in the darkness” hopefully lighting the way for some people to see science in a more complete and useful way.

Materials for CEM241 Exam 4

Mechanism to Know in Detail

  • Hydrohalogenation (Markovnikov) of Alkene (know how alkyne mechanism differs)
  • Acid-Catalyzed Hydration of Alkene
  • Halohydrin Formation from Alkene
  • Acid-Catalyzed Hydration of Alkynes
  • Keto-Enol Tautomerization (both Acid and Base Catalyzed)

Reactions from the Unit

  • Hydrohalogenation (Markovnikov) of Alkenes and Alkynes
  • Hydrohalogenation (anti-Markovnikov) of Alkenes and Alkynes
  • Acid Catalyzed Hydration (Oxymercuration-Demercuration) of Alkenes and Alkynes
  • Hydroboration-Oxidation of Alkenes and Alkynes
  • Hydrogenation (syn– and anti-) of Alkenes and Alkynes
  • Partial Hydrogenation (syn– and anti-) of Alkynes
  • Bromination of Alkenes and Alkynes
  • Halohydrin Formation
  • Dihydroxylation (anti– and syn-) of Alkenes
  • Ozonolysis of Alkenes and Alkynes
  • Elimination of Alkanes to Alkynes
  • Alkylation of Alkynes

Important Reactions from the Previous Unit

  • Elimination Reactions to produce Alkenes from Alkanes
  • Correct Assessment of Base/Nucleophile Needs for Elimination Product Specificity

BIO220 Exam 4

The JC policy is that class runs as scheduled unless school is cancelled, so unless JC officially cancels school we will have the exam tomorrow at 11am, no exceptions.

If class is cancelled we will have the test on Tuesday at 9:00 am and then run the talks between Tuesday lab period (10:30-12:30) and Thursday class time (11:00-12:30).

CEM131 Lab

We will be doing Lab 8 – Thin Layer Chromatography for lab tomorrow.  Lab6/7 are being redesigned and parts will be used for a handout next week that will be assigned for practice.

CEM131 Grades

The grades for CEM131 are posted for Post Exam 2.  There was a formatting error in the one I showed the morning class which had some grades screwed up.  I have corrected the error, but please double check against your handed back work.

Previous Exams

Wow, looks like a good chunk of people read the exam from last term in CEM131 and used that as study. Here is some advice, I change a significant chunk of questions between terms… And I knew, due to a question a student asked, that the old test was being used… So I made sure a changed almost every question.