The Orbital

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I ran around in search of Dr. Heisenberg. The bizarre clacking of my sneakers against the grassy ground of the domain, however, stirred me from my hunt. I looked down and realized that I wasn’t standing on grass, but on what appeared to be plastic green LEGOs. “What the heck?” I shrieked. “This is so wrong!”

LEGO grass. http://farm9.static.flickr.com/8003/7200733532_8d730f4326_m.jpg

LEGO grass.
http://flickr. com

            I removed a pin from my hair and tried to dig it into the bark of a nearby sycamore. It refused to budge. The bark was…plastic too? I detached a leaf from one of the tree’s branches and split it in half. It ripped into twos like how a kindergartener tears a piece of construction paper. The shreds fell directly to the ground. “That’s odd,” I mumbled. “That leaf weighs about four grams, yet its fall was completely undisturbed by the wind.”

            Hush. I listened for wind, for air currents to ruffle the paper leaves and shake the LEGO ground. But there was nothing. No bird chirps, no voices, just the monotonous beat of NMR instruments locking and shimming in the distance. I gazed at the perfect azure sky and wondered if the atmosphere in this immaculate world resembled that of Earth’s. I climbed the sycamore and decided to find out for myself. With my arms stretched, I reached for the sky. “One, two, three, jump!” I leaped twelve feet, and gasped in horror when I realized that the “sky” was nothing more than blue spray-painted pieces of plywood. “No!” I descended back to land.

            I felt like I was losing my mind. “What kind of hoax is this?” I screeched. “Heisenberg!” My voice echoed. I reclined on the LEGO floor and felt rage overtaking me again. I was turning green! How? Why? “HEISENBERG!”

            “Helen, do you realize what you’ve achieved?” Heisenberg appeared from beneath the sycamore.

            “I don’t understand why I’m transforming. Here lies perfection, a world without signal noise. I should be content.”

            “But you’ve replaced reality with fantasy. In this illusion, your surroundings are constant and false: an artificial atmosphere prevents cosmic rays from interfering with your measurements; in the absence of wind, you’ve eliminated even more room for error; and without civilization, or life, no one, nothing, can hamper your desire for perfect mensuration. The instruments in this realm are self-sustaining; they don’t need you, Helen. But without you, and without genuine samples, what good are they? You’ve traded everything you love for perfection, and look: you’re still a monster.”

            “But you wanted this too! You liar!” I yelled.

            “Helen, I’m long departed. I’m merely a manifestation of your own desires.”

            “I don’t want this.”

            “It’s not the signal noise that troubles you; you’re a perfectionist in all areas of life. But perfection yields plastic and petulance. You turn green because you’re angry. Once you rid yourself of this anger, you’ll be able to take on the world.”

            “Even graduate school?”

            “Even graduate school.”

            “Okay, I think I know what to do.”

            “You might need this,” Heisenberg said, handing me another Schrodinger shortbread. “I’m leaving now, for good.”

            “Thanks for everything, Werner.” I shook his hand and placed the cookie in the pocket of my skinny jeans. I wondered how I could envisage someone so real.

        I sprinted for the portal that led to the quantum tunnel mural. It was still open! “Let’s do this!”

            I jumped in and was once again overcome by the drowning hum of cicadas and the blurring of colors. I placed my hands over my ears and closed my eyes.

            Hours passed. I lifted my eyelids and found myself in the TCNJ Chemistry building basement. I saw the graphene net, the mural, and Dr. Heisenberg’s chemical collection.

            “H-how?” was all I could mutter. I removed the cookie from my pocket and bit into it. I returned to my macroscopic self in the blink of an eye. I glanced at my watch. 1:27 PM. Everyone’s still here!

            I dashed up the stairs to the PXRD room and found the pattern I printed out earlier that week. “Kevin, Dr. S, look, look!”

            They sprinted down the hall. “Isn’t this the most beautiful PXRD pattern you’ve ever seen in your entire life?” I asked. They eyed the pattern and me carefully.

            “It’s, um, lovely, Helen,” said Dr. S. “Though there appears to be some noise.”

            “Signal noise, haha,” I chortled. “Noise adds flavor and grandeur to life. Oh, yes, the world would be so bland without it. I’m quite thankful for signal noise.”

Marisa Sanders is a senior at The College of New Jersey, where she is studying chemistry and English. She is also the president of the ACS student chapter at TCNJ.

Marisa Sanders is a senior at The College of New Jersey, where she is studying chemistry and English. She is also the president of the ACS student chapter at TCNJ.

            “Are you feeling alright, Helen?” questioned Dr. S.

            “Yeah, I experienced an outlandish encounter with Dr. Heisenberg and several Hulk-like transformations, but I’m doing pretty well.”

            “Want to talk about it over caffeine?” asked Kevin.

            “Surely, I haven’t had a caramel macchiato in over 36 hours!”

Recent Posts

Au Revoir to the Golden City

Greetings from San Francisco! My name is Lana and I am here at the 253rd National Meeting with my fellow ACS Undergraduate Student Liaison, Alex Goranov. I hope that you enjoy my perspective as a volunteer coordinator and participant in the day’s activities.

As undergraduate students, we all have access to the Hospitality Center. The welcoming atmosphere helps set the tone for the day and provides a space to recharge your batteries (both actual and metaphorical). This home base for students is great for networking. I was there first thing in the morning to welcome today’s undergraduate volunteers.

One of my favorite events at national meetings is the Undergraduate Research Poster Session. It is so motivating and exciting to see the work of my peers on display. The students who came to San Francisco really showed up and showed out!

A highlight of the day was attending the Eminent Scientist Lecture by Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi, an accomplished and highly awarded biochemist and faculty member at Stanford University. Today’s lecture focused on her journey toward professional success. It was truly inspiring to hear such a celebrated woman’s perspective. The lecture was over lunch, which provided yet another opportunity to connect with a variety of undergraduate students.

I was really looking forward to the undergraduate session on Improving Scientific Communications, and it did not disappoint. As a young chemist who is preparing to be a professional in modern society, it is important that I have the skills and acumen necessary to communicate about my work in any setting. I need to be able to engage and connect with colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family members to be a well-rounded and far-reaching scientist. This discussion helped to put me on the right path.

I closed out the day by joining my fellow chemists, both undergraduates and professionals, at the lively Sci-Mix poster session. All of the innovative research on display really emphasized the power of chemistry. This is the place to see and be seen, and I was glad that I had my newly-printed business cards on hand.

Today has been jam-packed with plenty of stimulating content and unique networking opportunities. Being able to use the ACS mobile app right on my phone to curate my day’s activities helped keep me on schedule. After today’s excitement, I am looking forward to indulging in a set of technical talks about artisanal foods tomorrow morning. I love experimenting in my at-home lab (a.k.a. my kitchen), and I’m looking forward to learning about two of my favorite foods, bread and olive oil!

San Francisco has been a blast and I have really enjoyed sharing this experience with you all. See you soon in Washington D.C. for our next national meeting!

Lana M. Nitti is studies at Utica College and is serving as Student Liaison to the ACS Undergraduate Programs Advisory Board.
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