I’m currently reading The Periodic Table written by Primo Levi, who was a chemist as well as a writer. He was a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and survived. It is a curious thing to be reading about the life of a chemist. I can sympathise with some of the frustrations expressed and this has at times for me overshadowed other aspects of the book which results in re-reading of passages. At the rate that I am progressing, I should be finished by 2015.
Levi also wrote an essay, The Mark of the Chemist on what it is like to be a chemistry student learning the practice of transforming materials into new substances. He described it like a set of ritualised events that all chemists would go through including a once common injury that Professor Martyn Poliakoff in the video explains.
I can’t even begin to imagine being part of an initiation process involving sticking glass in my hand. Odd coming from a person who willingly paid $30 to have her ears pierced during a lunch break. Though I can’t help but think that the rituals are still in place today but not ones resulting in injury. Today as I was pouring out a concentrated acid from its stock bottle my mind transported back to the time when I thought I was too busy to put on a pair of gloves when pouring acid. That was my first and so far only, (touch wood!), self induced chemical burn. I have never forgotten it and will now always reach for a pair of gloves before going anywhere near acid.
Having said that, if you talk to enough chemists, you will soon find that most of them will have a story to tell about an acid burn. I am one of the fortunate chemists that do not have a scar from an acid burn. Some are not so lucky. This seems to be the mark of the modern chemist.