This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cleaning House

Today, I spent most of my time packing up my office (cubicle) for transfer to our new facility. Fortunately, I don’t have to pack up the lab just yet, since my lab at the new site won’t be finished until the end of summer. Unfortunately this means that my lab and my desk will be about 15 miles apart -- not a particularly efficient arrangement. Since I can jack into the company network from my lab, I suspect that my laptop and I will be spending about 95% of our time at the old place.

The hardest part of a move is going through your stuff and deciding what to keep and what to toss. For some people, this is relatively easy, but for packrats such as myself, it’s an exhausting job. I was known for having the messiest desk throughout grade school and my wife would testify that I’m even worse now. I just don’t feel comfortable throwing things away. Every time I throw away a sheet of paper/journal/data disk/incriminating picture/chewing gum wrapper/etc., I’ll invariably need it back within a week, even though I may not have even been aware of its existence for the last year. Occasionally, I’ll start to backslide and throw things out, but I’ll get burned almost immediately and my packrat mentality will just be reinforced further. I’m proud to say I did throw out a lot of stuff this time -- stuff which belonged in the category of “I haven’t used this in a year and it means so little to me that even if I were to need it tomorrow, I wouldn’t care.” Ahhh…, risk taking at its finest.

While removing the debris from my desk, it occurred to me that DNA could also use the occasional cleanup. Our DNA is full of genes which are no longer expressed, or which have mutated into something useless, or which fall under the category of junk DNA (although its “junk” status is being seriously questioned). What process does nature use to clean out DNA? It’s called mass extinction. Now there is no shortage of mechanisms for mass extinctions. A short list would include asteroid impacts, major volcanic flows, disruptions in the oceanic currents, supervolcanos, and runaway greenhouse effects. It should be noted that mass extinction isn’t the perfect DNA cleanser, since practically all of the original DNA remains in the new species generated after the extinction. It merely gives DNA new space into which it can expand -- kind of like moving into an office with twice as much room as before. You don't have to throw anything away. Ahhhh…., the perfect scenario for a packrat. What is the point of this post? Nothing. My mind just tends to wander when I'm packing.

1 comment:

Liberal Arts Chemist said...

Testify brother. I was never known as messy but I kept everything except what I will need tomorrow. It seems like a curse. What I have noticed recently though is that i have passed an efficiency tipping point and although I have kept an item and the time has come where it would be useful ... it is easier to just go buy a new one than to spend three hours trying to find it. It is one thing to keep an item it is still another to be able to lay your hands on it in a hurry. Good luck with the move. When I was a post-doc/contractual lecturer we moved five times in seven years and each time we were amazed / appalled by what we had accumulated tht could be thrown out. It was actually good for us. We have lived in the same house now for ten years and need to move.