Google chemistry. Go to the images tab. What do you see?
Probably a variety of pictures but I’m guessing a significant majority involve laboratory glassware (which is not the sole property of the chemists) filled with brightly coloured liquids. There’s probably also a couple of your mad professor types in there, and a few images of childhood chemistry sets (ah those were the days…).
It is a load of crap.
Some of the most interesting and exciting chemistry in the world produces the dullest white powders imaginable. You’ve all experienced them, many people take those chemicals every day in the form of medications. Other incredibly elegant aspects of chemistry manifest themselves in liquids, gases, solutions and solids of a variety types. Again, all around us – we wear them, cook with them, wash ourselves in them and are entertained by them.
I do not understand why a subject of such universal usefulness and elegance must constantly be reduced to a series of food dyes in oddly shaped bottles. Yes there are coloured chemicals. Yes, the colour of certain compounds are incredibly beautiful, but if I were to take a poll in my department, I would be able to establish that something like 80+% of the research that goes on involves colourless substances. I understand that its ‘visually appealing’ and even ‘photogenic’, but look closely at those photos – the majority make no sense at all. There is no logical scientific reason why those items of glassware have been filled with those concoctions and placed together, and it is not an accurate portrayal of the subject (some may even say it is as much a betrayal as the ‘mad chemist’ stereotype).
When I say I’m a chemist, many people say ‘oh I did that at high school’. They will follow it up by asking what the pretty blue stuff was. It is usually copper sulfate. Then they’ll wistfully recall the moments when an experiment went wrong in a dramatic or amusing way. Then they’ll say it was too hard for them so they did subject X instead. I have to get out of the habit of replying to that with ‘I found it easy’ because its a real conversation stopper.
Anyway, I’d like to ban the coloured liquid filled lab-ware nonsense but I’m not sure what it should be replaced with. Any suggestions?