Friday, June 24, 2011

Crystallographic Equestrianism

                My gray mare is growing up, and it is so satisfying to feel it in every stride. She has such a greater understanding of what I am asking for now. The clarity is what makes it fun. There are some things that I can ask for so subtly, that I feel as if I am just thinking the idea when she answers me correctly. Yes, we have our train-wreck moments still, but they are further and further apart. I would like to now derive a contrived metaphor, because it feels good.
                In crystallography, we determine the structure of a molecule.  In the first stages, there is only a rough shape of an object,  that will look meaningless to an untrained eye. This is your unbroken yearling- all legs, doesn’t understand what you want, and isn’t really good for anything yet. It just takes up space.
                From our initial, meaningless blob, I use chemical knowledge to sift through the blob, and decide what parts have meaning, and what is just noise. The structure gains some meaning, even if it isn’t compete yet. This is your newly under saddle horse- trying to carry your weight, stay upright and grow into a big horse.
                A structure can be considered complete chemically when all the representative parts are visible.  It may not be pretty, yet, but it shows all the parts that should be there.  The resolution may not be all that great yet, and the atoms might still be trying to settle down. Things can still be a little fuzzy.  I imagine this to be the green broke horse- it has stop, it has go, it has some gaits that mostly show up when you ask for them.
                Chemically descriptive and crystallographically complete, the finished structure contains all the information that you can derive from the data. It has been polished to maximum shine. This is not always easy- some structures will never be satisfyingly finished. Some are too defective. Some will not co-operate and will be consigned to the circular file. The finished structure is more than a sum of the chemical parts- the molecule can be described on its own or as a small part in a much larger crystal. This finished structure is now ready to go out into the publishing world.
 The finished horse is a creature that shines with all that you put into them. Your care, your attention, your patience. Your weekday evenings and weekends.  Your praise and your demerits.  It may be exhausting at times, and you will be tested. The polish of flying changes or automatic distances is not achieved over night.  Not every horse will be finished- some never get the chance, some will not find the right person for the job.   But a finished horse is a beauty to behold, and I hope you all get the chance to experience it.
Maybe one day I will with the Gray mare, but  I am a big fan of the” life as a journey” analogy.  Every day I remind myself that there is no “there” that is better than “here.” In science and life,  enjoying the journey is the key to a happy life. So I will love my partially refined mare as she is right now.

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