Chemists at play

British Science Week

What happens when a social media guy walks into a lab? No, this isn’t a joke. Walking into a laboratory can be a daunting experience if you don’t come from a science background, it can be clinical with the white coats, safety goggles, gloves, chemicals. The Miswa laboratory has these things, it is professional and organised. It is quiet. I announce myself, “I’ve come to pester you for British Science Week! Please can you tell me what it’s like to work here and what got you into chemistry?”

For a brief moment the quietness continues, only the whirring of a machine in the background and the rumble of a passing lorry.

“…it won’t take long – I’ll be out of your hair in no time-”

“No problem, I’ve not got long hair anyway”, Rob the Senior Chemist replies putting his pen and clipboard on the counter to take off his cap and rubs his shaved head.

The quick Q+A begins.

I start with the basics, “What inspired you to go into chemistry?”

The first response is deadpan: “Money. No, that’s a joke. Don’t write that…You get to play with stuff!” the excitement in his voice rises, you can see he is being genuine now.

Rob continues, “What I like, it doesn’t always go to plan – and that’s not always a good thing but it’s definitely not always a bad thing…”

Juggy and Dan enter the office lab space to bring in their findings from a recent test and join the conversation. Recent chemistry graduate, Juggy, simply puts it, “It’s about trial and error”. Dan is reserved but his face lights up, and he chips in, “happy accidents! We like them…I like it here and I’ve already learnt a lot.” Dan’s background is in film and photography, I ask him if there is a cross over between the industries. He thinks for a moment, “the logic and train of thought”, the methodology of creating a film from nothing to developing a treatment plan, devising scripts and storyboards, the filming process.

We go back to talking about chemistry and “playing with stuff”. They describe, testing substances and batches, working with and creating formulas – it’s like playtime where you “never stop learning and developing”. We return to the topic of “trial and error”, “fun and games”, or so called “happy accidents”.

Rob says, “Take Post-It notes…” I wonder where this is going but think about the sticky note on the wall in my office.“…The adhesive used in Post-It notes before they were created was meant to be a super strong formula, but it was rubbish, absolutely terrible, stuck to nothing for long…but works perfectly on sticky notes”, Rob explains. Without the super strong adhesive going wrong we wouldn’t have the iconic yellow piece of stationary we have and know so well today.

Learn more about the Post-It story:

For more about British Science Week please visit their website and you can follow the hashtags #BritishScienceWeek and #EverydayScientist on Twitter to see more stories and events throughout the week.

Dye test in beaker. Photo: Daniel Scott.

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