MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: As a scientist, how do you use math and cooperation skills?

Area: Chemistry
Posted By: Samuel Conway, Senior Staff Chemist, Avid Therapeutics, Philadelphia, PA
Date: Sat Mar 29 21:49:17 1997

Math is essential to science, no matter what branch you choose. As a chemist, I use math skills every day. I need to use algebra in order to calculate how much of a chemical to mix with another, and how much product I can expect to get out. Engineers use geometry and calculus in order to design structures. Astonomers need to use complex mathematical equations to determine distances and interactions between celestial bodies. Even your family doctor needs to use math to determine how much medicine to give to differently-sized people.

As for cooperation, that is essential, too. I don't think any good scientist could work alone for long. We like to gather in groups to share our ideas. Very often, when you think a lot about one particular thing, it gets "stale" in your mind. You hit dead ends. But if you share it with others, you can get their views on it, and find new insights that way. Sometimes, too, a scientist may come up with what he thinks is a brilliant new idea, and will be so excited about it that he can't see a very fundamental flaw in it. He needs others around who can tug his sleeve and say, "er, that's all very nice, but you did not consider this...."

When a scientist publishes the results of his research, it is first shown to others, who check it to make certain all of the facts are correct and all of the math has been done properly, and that nothing has been over- looked. This is called "peer review."

Often, scientists from different fields need to work together. In the development of medicines, for example, a team of biologists, working together, test the materials that I, a chemist, make in the laboratory to see if they are effective drugs against viruses. If they find one that is good, they sit down with me, and together we decide how to tweak the molecular structure of the material to make it a better drug. Once we are satisfied that we have a good potential anti-viral drug, we bring it to a team of physicians who helps us determine if the material is going to be safe and effective for humans to use. If it is, then we meet with chemical engineers who help us decide how to make the drug in large quantities.

Each of the skills these people bring with them are important, and without cooperation between them, quite honestly, nothing would ever get done!

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