Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Worth a read

Via the DCHAS listserv, a really great post by th'Gaussling: 
One of my work duties is to give safety training on the principles of electrostatic safety; ESD training we call it. The group of people who go through my training are new employees. These folks come from all walks of life with education ranging from high school/GED to BS chemists & engineers to PhD chemists. In order to be compliant with OSHA and with what we understand to be best practices, we give personnel who will be working with chemicals extensive training in all of the customary environmental, health and safety areas. 
I have instructed perhaps 80 to 100 people in the last 6 years. At the beginning of each session I query the group for their backgrounds and ask if it includes any electricity or electronics study or hobbies. With the exception of two electricians in the group, this survey has turned up a resounding zero positive responses. 
Admittedly, there could be some selection bias here. It could be that people with electrical knowledge do not end up in the chemical industry. This agrees with my informal observations. But I’m not referring to experts in the electrical field. I refer to people who recall having ever heard of Ohm’s law. One might have guessed that the science requirements for high school graduation may have included rudimentary electrical concepts. One might have further suspected that hobby electronics could have occupied the earlier years of a few attendees. Evidently not. And it does not appear that parents have been very influential in this matter either...
I messed around a lot with electronics when I was a pre-teen, had a lot of fun with electronics kits. (Incidentally, Snap Circuits are a pretty cool educational tool for kids.)  


  1. There may also be some difference in how seriously people think the study or hobby needs to be. Reading the second paragraph I would have said I don't have any experience. However, when you probe further and provide the example of Ohms law I would say yes, because than it seems like my half year tech class in HS (which I loved) where I learned circuits, soldering and the math behind it all, would count.

  2. In my senior year (1966) I took a course in electronics for chemists. Students had to build an electronic device. Most made vacuum tube voltmeters, which were used as pH meters in general chemistry labs. A few made intercoms that were used to communicate by stockroom employees on different floors of the chemistry building.

    I had little knowledge of electricity and electronics, so in the summer I got a book from the library on radio and TV electronics and a shortwave receiver kit to get experience in building electronic devices. It worked out well.

  3. The typical undergraduate chemistry curriculum requires a year of university physics, which will have a short section on electricity and magnetism, but probably not too much electronics. By the time I completed US Nuclear Power Training I was pretty good at circuit analysis, but it wasn't until I got to graduate school where I had a course in research electronics.

  4. In my early teens (1970s), I played with (tube) electronics quite a lot, including getting my ham radio license. Although there was no electronics instruction at my high school, some friends and I did have an informal electronics club where we dabbled in the nascent field of transistor computer circuits. Upon my retirement last summer, I got back into these interests in a big way, and I now spend much of my time restoring radios from the 1920s and 1930s. Not much chemistry in this particular hobby, but it is much easier on the back than some of my other hobbies (e.g., auto restoration)! And yes, you certainly do learn all aspects of Ohm's Law and Kirchhoff's Laws.

  5. I am a chemist and an electronics hobbyist. I loved electronics as a kid (in the 1980s) and got back into it several years ago -- the advent of tools like the Arduino (and similar boards) plus the cheap availability of parts from China makes it a much more accessible hobby than it used to be -- ironically, the typical hobbyist stuff from the 1970s and 80s (shortwave / ham) is perhaps more challenging now as the parts can be hard to come by, relatively speaking.

    I've had the opportunity to build a few electronic devices for work (sensors and jigs) and it is quite rewarding.

  6. My first interest was electronics, but the perceived lack of job opportunities (hmm), the financial barrier to entry (equipment, etc.) and my difficulty in grasping the math/topological concepts behind it meant that I never pursued it as a career option. I still have an active interest however, and am a licensed amateur radio operator.

    However, appreciating electronics, especially old electronics, does make you cringe a bit when some beautiful old bit of gear, like a calibration set or spectrometer, is tossed out at the back of the department. One's garage can quickly fill in such a position... It also made me realise that almost none of the chemists that I work with have much engineering acumen. The slightest IT problem causes hours of delay while the technician comes to fix it, and installing (or, God forbid, modifying) equipment properly presents an insurmountable challenge... That said, I've noticed that some (academic) groups seem to attract tech-oriented chemists more so than others, and I'm effectively alone in that respect.

  7. The data collection for my PhD work was on a cantankerous DEC PDP-11 with a very large (and removable) hard drive disk, perhaps a foot or more in diameter. If I hadn't known electronics and computer architecture and some programming, my PhD project might have taken a very different course. I definitely breathed a sigh of relief when I finished my last data collection experiments on that beast... Lesson Learned: you never know what skills you'll need in life, but a working knowledge of electronics is a plus. Helps fixing stuff around the house, too.

  8. I never wanted to play with electronics when I was a kid; I fiddled with 6502 ML for a bit, but never really learned it, and never wanted to engineer or build anything. I know what Ohm's Law is, but in practical terms I couldn't calculate resistances or currents well (and obviously can't build anything). Based on my lack of practical acumen (or desire), I am not sure how I got to chemistry.

  9. I certainly feel I should know more about electronics/coding. Some of the time I spent sitting through 3 semester of organic lectures could have been used well had I taken more EE/CS classes considering I hardly think about organic chemistry in my graduate school research. (Not to mention, may have substantially decreased the pain of job search)


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20