Field of Science

Friday Random 10: Chemistry

A Random 10 for Bill Carroll's National Chemistry Week Extreme Tour

Chemistry (Chemistry)
Modern Chemistry (Motion City Soundtrack)
Chemistry (The Dygmies)
Delicious Chemistry (Juliet Kelly)
Chemistry (Semisonic)
Strong Chemistry (David Wilcox)
Chemistry of Spiders (Corcovado)
Relative Chemistry (Doctor L)
Bad Chemistry (Donna Regina)
Chemistry Lessons (Frenchmen)


Extreme Chemistry

Tomorrow Bill Carroll, the president of the American Chemical Society, heads out on the National Chemistry Week Extreme Tour. Bill is out to show how much fun chemistry can be, by highlighting this year's NCW theme: The Chemistry of Toys. He's also raising money for Project SEED which supports summer lab research experiences and college scholarships for economically disadvantaged students. Project SEED is in its 37th year and more than 8000 students have been supported.

Check out Bill's progress at the Extreme Tour Blog or catch the Tour's tunes. You can also sponsor one of Bill's many miles by donating to Project SEED.

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Smooth Operators

The formulation of quantum mechanics in terms of operators lends it dash of elegance compared to the stodgy differential equations of Newtonian physics. In 1932 John von Neumann brought operator algebra to bear on quantum mechanics. von Neumann was unusually social, for a mathematician, and his home in Princeton the venue for many parties. He was also gifted across a wide range of field in mathematics, doing fundamental work in both my field and that of my husband (and our work is not connected in any way!).

What's an operator? The basic definition is a rule that changes one function into another. A more sophisticated one is a mapping between two function spaces. A function space is a collection of functions, each point in the same corresponds to a function. The functions are collected according to a set of rules, different function spaces have different rules associated with them. For example, the set of all functions that are real-valued on the interval 0 to 1 and have continuos 2nd derivatives would constitute a function space. A famous function space for quantum mechanics is Hilbert space.

You can, of course, construct classical physics in terms of operators as well; and quantum mechanics in terms of differential equations! The pedagogical approach to quantum mechanics generally brings operators explicitly to the table very early one, while the introduction of classical physics is often done without recourse even to the calculus.

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