Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An Elemental Understanding

I was terrified as I sat in my Biology class last Thursday night.

"I'm not going to lie," the professor said. "This is a very, very, very hard class. But, you have to pass it or you can't move on, so, we'll just do the best we can to make it fun."

Turns out, it isn't really Biology, per se. It's a combination of Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Biochemistry. Ah, there's that 'Bio' part. What a con job. But, like he said, this class is required of all Nursing students. And there we all sat, trembling.

I didn't do so hot in Chemistry during high school. Maybe it was the teacher, who forgot what it was like to not understand things on a molecular level. Maybe it was his distracting comb-over or monotone voice. Maybe it was his cowboy boots. Maybe it was me, immature, distracted, and lacking scientific confidence. Whatever it was, I still harbor my fear of Chemistry. One characteristic of me is that I do not like to not understand something. But my fear has been real, and persistent, all these years.

And now I must face it.

I've been studying. A lot. Seriously. A lot. The professor said that A students have read the chapters and worked out all the problems before they come to class. Good to know. So, I've gotten right down to it.

And I pray about it often. I really believe in the power of the Holy Ghost to bring enlightenment to one's mind. I believe that my understanding can be quickened and my capacity increased. I also believe, as I teach my children, that if I do not study on the Sabbath, but save that day for worship, then my sacrifice will be accepted, and my efforts magnified the other days of the week. I'm counting on it.

Well, I crawl along at a snail's pace. I read each section of the chapter; I read every caption; I study each diagram and picture; I take copious notes; I work out each problem.

Last week, the conversion factors, dimensional analysis, and scientific notation with significant numbers about kicked my butt. Have you ever seen that little skit on Sesame Street with the long-haired musician sitting at his grand piano, trying over and over to play his piece, and then in frustration he exclaims in despair, "Oh, I'll never get it! Never! Never!" and then he slams his face down on the keys? That's kind of how I felt.

And then, yesterday, the Periodic Table made me cry. But not like you think. I mean, it literally took my breath away, and I sat there in awe as I read from my book. "No way," I whispered out loud. "You've got to be kidding me. This is unbelievable!" (like I was the one discovering it all!) I felt my heart skip. No one had ever told me. Or, I never wanted to know before, so I didn't hear.

I first learned how electrons are organized within the atoms. In shells, then subshells, then orbitals. But all with such precision and reason. Then, I learned (with ease!) how to write electron configurations for any element, based on its atomic number. And then, when I learned how the electron configurations repeat themselves in a regular manner among the elements and how beautifully brilliant the periodic table is, I was stunned. Stopped dead in my tracks. I won't even try to explain it all here, because, well, it's all so fresh in my mind that I would just bumble it all up, but seriously? God is amazing.

I felt as though I learned to understand a small piece of the language with which He created the universe. There is so much order, so much beauty in it, that I can't comprehend how anyone could think for a moment that it all happened spontaneously. No way.

I sat there, staring at the periodic table with new, misty eyes. I wanted to rejoice out loud. I wanted to start sobbing. I wanted to jump around the room! I wanted to sing! It all filled me to overflowing. All I could do was write "WOW" in big capital letters in my notebook. And laugh out loud.

Because not only do I marvel at the intricacy and perfect symmetry in the patterns of God, realizing that really, I'm just some electron in some orbital, in some subshell, in some shell, spinning around some nucleus of an atom of an element in this vast Universe of His creating, but yesterday?

It all made sense. No fear.


Luisa Perkins said...

Awesome! The Periodic Table *is* a miracle of symmetry and beauty, isn't it? I have a really cool copy of it that I'm going to send you.

You're totally going to get this all; you're doing everything just right.


Annette Lyon said...

This is why I've never understood people who freak out over science not meshing with religion--science only strengthens my belief in God.

I had a university science professor that said if scripture and science clash, you're misreading one because they have the same author. I thought that was beautiful.

Funny story: As I was finishing up my BA, I mentioned to my inlaws that I needed one more science elective and that I was taking astronomy because the only other real option was chemistry--and yeah, right, like I was going to take THAT.

My FIL looked at me and asked, "What's wrong with chemistry?"

Only then did I remember he's a CHEMICAL ENGINEER.

Um . . . whoops.

Abby said...

All forms of science have always confused me. I think it's cool and all of that..but in school I never really got it. Whether it was me or my teachers ( it was probably me) I barely squeaked by every year. A lot of the greater picture of things blows my mind and it also freaks me out. Kind of like ants. But that's a different story haha.

Jenna, I'm so proud of you! Proud that you're taking all of this on (on top of everything else) and actually UNDERSTANDING it! Good for you!

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

You are just amazing to find the beauty of God's creation in a chemistry class! Love you! Mwah!

Megan said...

If you need any help, my DH has a masters in math and a phd in chemistry from Caltech... And he's a great tutor! (He's the reason I passed Bio and Phys. Science at the Y... so of course I married him!) Good luck!

Wonder Woman said...

Chemistry was my worst, as well. I had a sexist, lazy teacher who was only there to coach wrestling. In class all we did was read the section outloud and do labs. No teaching, whatsoever. I blame him for my lack of understanding of chemistry. :o) (The kind you learn from a book, at least!)

That's awesome that your hard work is paying off, with the help of the Spirit.

family said...

Jenna - don't forget that I was a bio teacher. I took all the organic, inorganic, micro, macro chem classes you can imagine. They make you take EVERYTHING to be a teacher. So call me if you need help or another explaination.

Rachel Sue said...

I love moments like that. When you see a little piece of the universe and it totally makes sense. And you know that God was behind it all, because how could so many tiny, itty, bitty little things come together with such perfection if there wasn't a creator?

isshou ni said...

I looove science for that very reason!

Unknown said...

Hurray for science! Your post was such a good reminder that, underneath all the grueling exams and latenight study sessions, there some really magnificent concepts in there!

Anonymous said...

The only things I remembered from school were things I associated with other things or made songs for. Okay, that sounded strange. For example, I will always remember AU as being gold because I think "A --You stole my gold watch." I won't tell you my other helps--I sound too stupid already... But seriously, I can never understand someone giving birth to a child and not believe in God. The world shouts out his name in so many ways.

Saint Holiday said...

Better living through chemistry - brings back memories. Your curiosity about EVERYTHING makes me happy. It's the Gift of the Holy Ghost stirring you up. I know exactly what you're experiencing. I love you.


Saint Holiday said...

Reminds me of the old joke: Two atoms were walking down the street. One says, "I lost an electron." The other asks, "Are you sure?" The first replies, "Yeah, I'm positive."

Carbon-based, for the time being