by Dezmond Remington
On Sep. 20 in room 564 of the science A building, approximately 20 people ingested a toxic chemical known as propylthiouracil. It was not a mass suicide attempt. It was not a Jonestown re-enactment, nor were they getting high. It was a meeting of the Humboldt chemistry club.
Propylthiouracil is a chemical used to test if an individual is especially sensitive to taste, someone known as a “supertaster.” If the paper containing the substance was especially bitter, then chances are good that person is a supertaster. The members of the Free Radicals, the chemistry club on campus, were testing if they were supertasters.
“I just put poison on my tongue, so I guess I’m ok with anything,” laughed member Angela Takahara.
If the energy of the Free Radicals could be put into one quote, that would probably be it.
“People. That’s the best part,” club president Jack McLaughlin said. “It’s probably the best place for chemistry majors and a lot of other majors to socialize. It’s just a great community to have and to talk to, because not a lot of other people really understand chemistry…it’s nice to have people who understand you, where you don’t have to explain every other concept.”
McLaughlin joined the club his freshman year, and hasn’t regretted it once. He said it’s an excellent way to get connected with important resources and more experienced students, as well as guest speakers who are in the industry or are teaching currently.
“It really helps guide newer students and even sophomores, juniors, and such towards figuring out what to do with their chemistry degree,” McLaughlin said, “And also how to make the most out of college.”
The Free Radicals aren’t only open to those working on chemistry degrees, however. Shay Konradsdottir, the club’s Social Director and Events Coordinator, is a molecular biology and computer science double major, with only a minor in chemistry. Her favorite part of being in the club is putting events on, such as a tie-dye event the club held last semester to showcase the science of colors.
“As social coordinator here, I really enjoy planning the events and making fun things,” Konradsdottir said. “Making this stuff, and sharing this interest in the sciences and interest in chemistry in a way that’s not just ‘here’s what the reactions are called.’”
And it is that interest in chemistry that binds all of the members together. McLaughlin said the nature of chemistry being everywhere was the appeal, and how it oftentimes was the key to understanding so much of life.
“[Chemistry] is like the building blocks of the universe,” McLaughlin said. “…I feel like I can pursue all of my passions for environmentalism and such through chemistry.”
Senior Sam Emerson, attending his first meeting at the Chemistry Club, holds a similar viewpoint.
“I like figuring out what makes the universe run the way it does,” Emerson said. “It feels like getting to know the game engine behind everything…I’ve always thought life was really fascinating and that although the universe prefers disorder, there are certain, random spins of chemicals that happen to make order out of nothing.”
Konradsdottir, who Emerson credits with convincing him to join the Free Radicals, has a much more personal background with science and how it interacts with their lives. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was young, and was a subject in medical studies. It was a defining moment in her life, she said, and it inspired her to become a doctor and help people. Eventually, she became interested in coding, and that led her to where she is today; gunning for an MD-PhD and potentially opening her own free clinic or making more effective medical diagnostic tools.
“I felt really awful about when I’ve heard stories from my friends or even some family members that were prevented from doing the things they loved doing because they got an injury or they got sick,” Konradsdottir said. “I myself, being a diabetic, there are lots of things I missed out on because I’m a diabetic, so being able to catch those things and prevent them from happening–that’s interesting to me.”
Being the club events coordinator, Konradsdottir hopes to share that fascination with the rest of campus. Last semester, she went on a field trip where she got to make a pleasant-smelling chemical, but wasn’t allowed to take any home. If the club had unlimited money, she would hold an event where anyone could show up, get a free lab coat and goggles, and concoct something similar to what she got to make–with the difference being they would get to keep it.
“It’s fun! We just do fun stuff here,” McLaughlin said. “It’s not like actual work…you don’t have to understand anything about chemistry, so long as you show up with a good attitude.”