Why Do Chemists Need Descriptive Geometry And How To "Break Up" Chemistry?

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Chemistry is a self-consistent and beautiful, and most importantly, "eternal" science. Marina Trusova, Doctor of Chemical Sciences, Director of the Research School of Chemistry & Applied Biomedical Sciences of Tomsk Polytechnic University, is quite certain about it. Chemistry is eternal not only because it describes basic phenomena occurring on our planet. It is eternal because chemical education will be in demand in five years and also in the distant future. Marina Trusova shared her view on what specialists are in demand at chemical enterprises and how to "break up" chemistry.

Elon Musk's rockets, genome editing, black holes, flexible smartphones are on everyone's lips now. Against the backdrop of all these ambitious tasks, chemistry seems too traditional. How can it captivate school or university students now?

– Mathematics, physics, and chemistry are three pillars. Humankind wouldn't have made a significant breakthrough without them. At least, space rockets and genome editing technology wouldn't have been invented for sure. And nothing seems to have changed in this sense as chemistry remains a basic subject. Let's take the hydrogen economy, which is much talked about today. You can't get hydrogen, and you mustn't store and use it if you don't know chemistry. That's an example of a challenging research task and work. Chemists are in demand at pharmaceutical companies, in the oil and gas industry, at chemical enterprises, in the broadest range of industries because chemistry is willing to "cooperate" with other sciences. Now plenty of subjects and professions are at the intersection of chemistry with other sciences — physics, materials science, medicine. Chemists were in demand 50 years ago, and they will be in 100 years, and, I hope, in 1,000 years. That's an advantage of chemistry.

What is more, chemistry is not that easy to study. Is any secret or not very secret key to understanding chemistry?

– Chemistry is very beautiful in its self-consistency. It is based on fundamental principles. For example, there are combination, decomposition, replacement, exchange reactions. A smart teacher should once help you understand how they proceed using the simplest molecules as an example. And then, no matter how gigantic an organic molecule formula is, you will know what to do with it. Spatial thinking is of great help here. That's why descriptive geometry is very useful to chemists.

How can descriptive geometry help?

– Molecules in your copybook are flat, but they are three-dimensional in the real world. This often confuses university and school students. For example, we don't understand why a catalyst aligns with a molecule on the left side and not on the right side. Spatial thinking developed by descriptive geometry can be of great help if you want to understand chemistry.

Which chemical engineering occupations are the most promising and sought-after by employers?

– Russia has many enterprises in various sectors that need chemists. Each industry has high-level enterprises that offer good labor conditions and challenging tasks. You'd better start out from what you like. Now good universities offer you an opportunity to choose your major based on your interests while studying, instead of choosing it at once on the day of admission.

For example, TPU applicants enter the Chemical Engineering program but then study basic subjects for the first two years, obtain excellent background, delve into more specific areas of chemistry, get acquainted with research teams. Their choice of major is more conscious, which is now highly valued by employers.

What graduates do chemical enterprises wait for now?

– According to our partners, major industrial enterprises, the first important quality is understanding the specific features of your major. The second one is basic IT skills. I don't mean that chemists at enterprises must program. They must rather understand the principles of digitalization and automation of processes. And the third one is soft skills. Enterprises need employees ready to work in a team, effectively communicate with their colleagues for solving tasks.

Do many graduates pursue a research career? What prospects do chemists have in their research careers now?

Being a scientist is much more than a profession. That's a distinct type of mind. That's why few graduates in percentage terms pursue research careers. But now it's definitely a good time for research. There are plenty of state grant programs supporting students, including PhD students, and they are selective and effective. Chemistry has many promising subject areas, and it's important that you find a good research team with an active research supervisor. Then you'll have challenging tasks, internships abroad, good publications, and Nobel Prizes.

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