Shattering Illusions, One Beaker at a Time

The covered crucible rattled against the glowing red support ring. When it took a little hop, I stepped back. No need to risk my eyebrows. Again.

The opening scene in The Final Formula is based on a real event.  It wasn’t quite as dramatic, nor did it happen to me, but I’m pretty sure the stain is still on the ceiling.  Fortunately, no eyebrows were lost.

When I tell someone that I’m a chemist, I usually get an enthusiastic response of, “That’s cool!” I suspect they imagine a white lab coat, flasks of mysterious liquids, and explosions. I’m afraid the only truth here is the lab coat. (Yes, as I mentioned above, there is an occasional explosion, but in real life, explosions are not a good thing. They usually involve cleanup, paperwork, and frequently, a follow-up safety meeting.)

In today’s post, I thought I’d share a little bit about what goes on at the day job and how it influences my fictional world.  Unfortunately, I’ll probably shatter the mad scientist image you have of me.  *sigh*  So much for being cool.

As a chemist, working in industry, I find my job very repetitious. I’ve run the same analysis for years, moving samples through the process much like an assembly line worker. The work involves not only wet chemistry (the typical bench work with reagents and beakers), but also the use of computerized instrumentation and loads of paperwork. There aren’t many shouts of “Eureka!” or opportunities to cackle over a bubbling test tube of weird colored liquid.

This might sound dull, but there are opportunities for creative work such as developing new procedures or puzzling out why a sample didn’t work they way you expected. I also have a great bunch of co-workers who get my dorky science jokes and make the daily drudgery fun. But it is through my fictional world that I really get to play the stereotypical mad scientist and blow things up.

One of the fun aspects of The Final Formula Series is adapting magic to our world. The study of alchemy is where modern chemistry got its start, so it made sense to have my alchemists start their careers as chemists. The equipment Addie uses is the same basic stuff you’d find in any modern chemistry lab, though she has been known to make her own when she lacks something.

Being a chemist myself does make it easier to describe what Addie is up to, though I have to be careful not to drift into any technical jargon. For me, the reading experience is about the characters and their stories. When a story goes into too much detail about the science or magic, I find myself skimming to the next interesting bit of character interaction. This is a personal preference, but I write what I like to read, so there you go. No long-winded breakdown about how ingredients are reacting at a chemical level, at least not from me.

So, there’s a little glimpse into what I do. It’s not scintillating stuff, but with a few tweaks, and a couple of explosions, it can make for fun fiction.



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