When I was younger, the word “scientist” immediately brought to my mind the image of a frenzied, frizzy-haired man in a lab coat. Although I definitely experienced the innate curiosity about the natural world that many children have, I could never picture myself, a goofy teenage girl who loved wearing dresses and writing stories and drawing animals, pursuing science professionally.
This changed in high school, in my tenth-grade chemistry class, when I fell in love with chemistry. Chemistry consumed my life, eating away at my sleep, invading my dreams, and even infiltrating my creative endeavors. I spent my free time drawing brightly-colored tests tubes, atomic models, and molecules, looking up experiments on youtube, and using what I was learning in the classroom to conduct mini experiments in the kitchen. Although I am now pursuing a more theoretical branch of science, I tell people that chemistry was my first love, because the way my thoughts were utterly consumed with this newfound interest was very similar to the way movies portray the infatuation period of a new crush. It was in that class that, for the first time, I began to consider the possibility of a scientific career.
Below, I have shown a painting I made, in the style of Rajasthani Miniature paintings. I tried to show the underlying molecules in Starbucks coffee and nature, including caffeine, oxygen, nitrogen, and water.
In my senior year, I took a course my high school offered called Studies in Scientific Research, in which students worked on year-long independent research projects of their own choosing. Because of my fascination with caffeine (likely due to my own frequent consumption), I tried testing the effects of caffeine in various forms on fruit fly populations. Fruit flies are useful because their nervous systems are similar to those of humans, and because they move through generations quickly, enabling us to observe potential genetic mutations caused by caffeine. I found that populations in which I introduced a small amount of caffeine had smaller larvae, and in some cases, delayed generational cycles. With large amounts of caffeine, the fruit fly populations almost immediately disappeared.
While I was waiting for fruit fly populations to develop, I also experimented with the caffeine power I had and was able to make interesting looking crystals using different solvents.
Since I conducted this research independently and with little guidance from faculty, and being an average high school student, I was very inexperienced, there is a good chance that some of these rather qualitative results were subject to confirmation bias. However, it was a good introduction for me to the world of scientific research, where information is multifaceted and messy, unlike information presented in the classroom and in textbooks.
The image below is a self-portrait I painted in senior year, of course, featuring fragments of the caffeine molecule.
Although I am no longer studying chemistry, I have realized that a lot of the critical thinking skills I developed in my AP Chemistry class have helped me in my process in undergraduate coursework and even research, and I will always hold fascination and interest for scientific studies on the molecular level. My hope, also, is that through this blog, I will be able to keep in touch with my artistic side, using art as a tool in my personal process as a developing scientist.