Bryn Mawr Chemistry Professor Writes About the Explosive Allure of Unsupervised Science

Posted May 8th, 2013 at 6:38 am.

mfranclIn a recent piece for Slate, Bryn Mawr Chemistry Professor Michelle Francl writes about how “doing chemistry that pushes beyond the boundaries of the classroom” inspired her to pursue the life of a scientist.

Writing in connection to the case of Kiera Wilmot, a 16-year-old who has been expelled and may even face criminal charges for experimenting with household chemicals on school grounds, Francl wrote:

I don’t pretend to have any insight into Wilmot’s motivations in this particular instance, but having once been a 16-year-old girl passionate about science, I can tell you that doing chemistry that pushes beyond the boundaries of the classroom can be the catalyst that turns a science student into a scientist. It’s much like the difference between playing at a recital and getting a chance to perform your latest composition in a local jazz club, an experience that marks the shift from music student to musician. One fiery, albeit small, explosion in the basement sink might have singed half of my brother’s eyebrows, but it also taught me that I could design and build an apparatus that would let me determine for myself that water was composed of hydrogen and oxygen. I wasn’t learning science by following a teacher’s recipe; I was doing science, unprompted and unscripted, with exhilarating results I could see and hear. And yes, in retrospect, we were really lucky nothing worse happened.

Francl’s last piece for Slate “Don’t Take Medical Advice From the New York Times Magazine: The Dangerous Chemophobia Behind its Popular Story About Childhood Arthritis, created a lot of buzz online, with nearly 8,000  Facebook “likes” and more than 1,200 comments on the Slate website.

More of Francl’s writing can be found on her blogs The Culture of Chemistry and Quantum Theology.

Bryn Mawr’s Chemistry Department combines high quality, visible research programs with excellent teaching. Students have the opportunity to work side by side with faculty as researchers. The chemistry major program of study includes introductory and advanced courses in the core areas of biological, inorganic, organic and physical chemistry. Advanced courses are informed by the research areas of bioinorganic, nanomaterials, medicinal, computational, organic materials and nucleic acid and protein chemistry.


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