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From ABC’s to PhD’s: A Day in the Life of a Chemistry Student
Sara Regehr is a chemistry major at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. She shares a typical day of discovering the complexity and wonder of creation.

I pull myself out of bed after my alarm goes off for the fifth time. It’s 6:30 in the morning – I guess this means I should get up. After a quick breakfast of dry cereal and green tea it’s time to drive to school to make it in time for class at 8 o’clock. The Mini-Wheats definitely make the drive at that time in the morning much more bearable.

Being able to concretely and tangibly see and use the science you are learning is addictive: Sara Regehr.

So does the fact that the scenery on the back roads to Langley is gorgeous this time of year. Class this morning is inorganic chemistry. It is not only a class that is interesting (although I don’t think I will ever understand point groups) but it is also full of an eclectic mix of people who engage in the funniest conversations.

The stories that are swapped back and forth would make absolutely no sense to an outside observer.

The flock of us then herd off to organic chemistry. As much as you initially struggle to understand the complexity of the material, it is still a fascinating class. It’s amazing how a combination of seemingly ordinary atoms (nothing special, just hydrogen and carbon and oxygen) can have such diverse properties and how it can make such a complex science. It makes you realize how complex creation really is and the limitations of our current knowledge.

After eating homemade pumpkin soup for lunch, it’s off to polymer chemistry. The industrial processes we have come up with for processing different materials is astounding. There is an amazing amount of detail and creativity present in the thought behind this technology.

After polymer is definitely my favourite part of the day: a four-hour organic chemistry lab. This is not only a practical exposure to chemistry but it is also so much fun. There is the challenge of trying to figure out how to fix something when it goes wrong or when there is a unique variation on what is supposed to happen.

There is much active problem solving that requires you to be aware and think on your feet. Being in a lab is not always an exact science (no pun intended), and there is precision and thought that needs to be present, but things will happen that you cannot plan for.

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Also, being able to concretely and tangibly see and use the science you are learning is addictive. I have access and opportunity to use technology that is straight from the textbooks I am reading.

There are so many firsts when you are in the lab. The other day I was able to run infrared spectroscopy for the first time. It’s a simple procedure and yet the complexity of the results that you can get is astounding. The fact that you are able to run these tests on the results from your experiment and get concrete results makes it all seem more real and exciting.

Being in the lab is fun. The atmosphere is full of camaraderie and humour among all of us lab rats.

After the organic lab, I have about an hour before my carpool leaves. I take advantage of the time to work in the lab and start prepping for the upcoming first-year labs. That’s another thing that is so cool about studying science: there is opportunity to use the knowledge and skills that you have ac- quired and gain practical experience.

At 5:30 I finally come home after a full day. I am constantly amazed at how much you can fit into a 24-hour period.

There is so much studying and recharging of your brain in those hours. I find I live day to day. I accomplish what I can and work as hard as I can.

The only real negative about picking something like chemistry to study is that it is definitely time-intensive. But it is something I love and that satisfies my innate curiosity to figure out how things work and to try and discover the complexities of God’s creation.

That in a nutshell is why I love science. I love the discovery, the complexity and the sheer beauty that God has put into the smallest details of creation. From the symmetry of molecules to the diversity of one element, there is so much I can learn and discover in one typical day.

Originally published in Faith Today, January/February 2009.




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