Friday, April 20, 2012

BLS: Chemists use "powerful microscopes" to examine structure

As bonus insult to injury, check out the caption on the picture attached to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' new Occupational Outlook Handbook page for chemists and material scientists (where all the stellar job (non)-growth is predicted):
Chemists and materials scientists use powerful microscopes to examine the structures of substances.
Sigh. Looks like we have more explaining to do. Chemists love, love, love microscopes!!111!Eleventy!

UPDATE: Commenters, including the wonderful MissMSE push back just a little. (I don't think AFM is what they had in mind, but ok.)

UPDATE 2: That's 3 4 5 commenters weighing in with uses of microscopes in chemistry and materials science. I surrender. 

10 comments:

  1. http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2009/aug/27/molecules-revealed-in-all-their-glory-by-microscope

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  2. Neglecting that the microscope shown is not very powerful, materials scientists really do use microscopes to examine structures. Quite a bit. Not molecular structure, but microstructures. The woman in the image appears to be in a metallographic polishing lab, and is very likely checking her polish before moving to a better optical microscope, or a scanning electron microscope (SEM). For complex oxide films, like perovskites, transmission electron microscopes (TEMs) can actually show atomic level details. Microscopy is one of our best tools for examining the structure of a material at the length scales that affect properties such as fatigue, tensile strength, creep and hardness. Hence it's one of the first things that we cover in lab classes for MSE majors, and there are grad level classes devoted to particular microscopy techniques.

    So maybe chemists don't do these things, but materials scientists do.

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    1. P.S. Thanks for the post inspiration! http://missmse.blogspot.com/2012/04/materials-scientists-use-optical.html

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  3. I'm a polymer chemist and in grad school we used scanning and transmission electron microscopes quite a lot to probe the structure of the polymers we made. I took a semester class in microscopy, taught through the material science dept. Optical microscopy (like in the photo) can also be useful to study the macro properties of polymers.

    When I worked in industry in a coatings lab, we routinely used optical microscopy to look at defects that were barely visible to the naked eye, but visible enough that the appearence of the coating was substandard.

    I once gave a talk to the business director of our division and her syncophatic underlings, talking about how optical microscopes help us solve problems - and hence sell more paint (all they really cared about). Six months later the director ponied up $500,000 for a new SEM, because, as she said enthusiastically 'Microscopes Help Us Sell Paint!"

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  4. When I was working in process chemistry, we occasionally used a microscope to check crystal structures during recrystallization tests. It wasn't a fancy super-powerful microscope though, just a standard lab microscope.

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  5. We had a pretty awesome light microscope at my last job....it had a 128,000,000,000,000x magnification, so we could see individual drug molecules scooting along in cells. Fairly routine assay. ; )

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    Replies
    1. That'd sure make ADME faster and easier.

      BTW, CJ, love the updated graphic.

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  6. Are you trying to say chemists DON'T use microscopes? That's what I do all day as a chemist and is what half of my entire lab is devoted to doing! Especially in the 'hot' fields of nanotechnology (SEM, TEM, AFM) and biological chemistry (fluorescence), microscopy is a key technique. I think you should even further update your graphic to 'maybe all the time' for some types of chemists!

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  7. The excellent points made by the commenters notwithstanding, I still sympathize with CJ's initial reaction.

    As a chemist, I feel that the photo/caption combo is a poor choice. Namely the "powerful microscope" and run-of-the-mill optical microscope combo.

    Furthermore, I think this description removes the emphasis of the preparation/synthesis of these materials. Then, after we've made them, chemists/material scientists may use a number of techniques to characterize them. Many are microscopy-based, and many of them do not much resemble the piece of equipment in that photo. But for those of us working with chemical substances of a different sort, there are different workhorse technologies that we are likely to use - NMR, mass spec, X-ray crystallography, DSC, etc...

    I could suggest a better photo/caption to describe our fields, but I think it's obvious that chemistry, especially when paired with material science, is way too diverse to be adequately represented by a single photo and two-line caption.

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