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Fun with soap

Quick, what do you think when you hear the word chemistry?

I’ll bet you don’t think about soap, dryer sheets, sunscreen, deodorant, french bread, or miner’s lamps. Maybe if you had a better chemistry teacher, you would.

If my high school chemistry teacher had focused on how chemistry affects my everyday life–how soap works, why you have to wait 20 minutes after applying sunscreen, why bread rises–before launching into balancing equations, the Bohr model, and moles, I might have actually enjoyed it.

Heck, I might have picked a different career.

Instead I crammed for the tests and got the heck out, never to look back until grad school when I took materials science and plastics courses. And LOVED them!

Now when Popular Science comes in the mail, I flip straight to Theodore Gray’s “Gray Matter” column, and occasionally I go looking for a quick tidbit in Chemistry for Dummies by John T. Moore, and lose myself in the rest of the chapter.

These guys make a potentially dry subject fun and interesting. If we had more teachers like Grey and Moore, maybe the US wouldn’t be struggling to produce science and technology majors.

(Credit: Free images from

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  1. Reply

    My HS Chem teacher told me – in front of the whole class – that my feminine logic was going to cause me to flunk the Regents Final. No joke. Is it any wonder I never took anything related to Chem again? I did ace that final though – just to prove him wrong.

  2. Reply

    Try reading “The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements” by Sam Kean. The most fun you’ll have with chemistry, ever. My book review is at the Internet Review of Books,

    • Reply

      Thanks for the recommendation, Sarah! I’ll check it out. I love how things that seemed almost like magic make perfect sense once you understand what’s going on behind the scenes.

  3. Reply

    My husband is a chemistry professor and has a magical way of demystifying the subject, of making it real and relevant (even to me, a lit major!). I had no idea how creative chemists must be—like writers, they must take what exists (in our case words) and create totally new things from them, rearranging them into whole new substances (stories).

    Also, knowing a bit about you from your scrivener class and your blog I know you like order and structure…and chemistry is all about that 🙂

    • Reply

      Anopisthographiste: Was my desire for structure that obvious? 😉

      Good point about creativity in chemistry. I like how the sciences combine both logic and imagination. As a manufacturing engineer, I didn’t think of myself as creative because I wasn’t painting pictures or writing fiction, but I had to tap my creativity daily to solve all sorts of problems.

      Kudos to your husband for making chemistry interesting and accessible! Thanks for checking in. =)

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