WORKSHOP RECAPS

Chemists Are People Too

Dr. Steve BertmanSteeped in readings about Jung and Alchemy, as well a book on the periodic table called The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, a group of us braved Michigan’s winter with her icy roads and were rewarded with a beautiful woodland scene at the welcoming home of Dr. Steve Bertman, atmospheric chemist and chemistry professor at Western Michigan University. Steve led a discussion about what science is, what it does in context of the study of nature; and chemistry, which specifically analyses the world at the atomic level. Dr. Bertman credited the early alchemists with inventing equipment that later scientists benefitted from. He introduced numerous ideas particular to the world of chemistry including how symmetry plays out as a theme, and gave the fascinating example of the enantiomer which are molecules that mirror one another yet are not superimposable. He discussed differences between the alchemists and the chemist, how the alchemist was committed to learning about the world we live in and scientists insist upon clearly defined methods to test notions. He posed questions such as, what is the connection between creativity and curiosity? In all, the evening generated much thoughtful discussion.  All of us in the ALCHEMY Initiative are seekers of what makes the world around us tick; some of us have or had other lives seeped in scholarship in one of the sciences which led us into our work as writers or artists.

Elizabeth Kerlikowske provided the writing prompt based on the Periodic Table of Elements and a writing technique called “Cleaving”. We were instructed to write a poem that works the way the periodic table works: when read across it means one thing and when it is read from up to down it has another meaning.

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