Connection: A relationship in which a person, thing or idea is linked or associated with something else.1
Connections. From the microscopic bonds that hold together every molecule within our world to the macroscopic relationships that form the web of society, connections are ubiquitous. Connections form the framework of modernity – in their absolute absence, civilization would crumble and matter would fall to dust.
I have titled this work “The Atomic Connection”. At face-value, it’s meant to represent the forces that exist between two atoms in a molecular bond. To me, this work represents the fundamental connection that allows for existence – the single strand that ties together the pieces of every object, being or otherwise I have ever come to know or experience during my time on this earth. The atomic connection – the force that holds our world together.
However, the meaning of this work lies beyond its image. While creating this work I was not inspired by the connections that hold atoms together in a molecule, but instead by the connections that hold humans together within a society. In chemistry, we know that stable bonds form prominent chemical moieties – functional groups exist with such ubiquity because they form stable, favoured internal connections. I think that an interesting parallel can be drawn between these stable bonds and those that exist between the ‘functional groups of society’. From the ever-tight bonds that hold families and friendships together to the wide-reaching relationships that hold a community together, the ‘functional groups of society’ undoubtedly exist as its cornerstones.
This last year has in many ways tested the bonds that strengthen the functional groups of society, and it is perhaps worthwhile now more than ever to reflect upon the properties that are responsible for the formation of bonds in the first place. What causes connections to form, and how can we best strengthen them? As organic chemists, we can easily chalk it up to thermodynamics and kinetics – a strong atomic connection is all too often just a matter of “positively-charged regions on a molecule interacting with negatively-charged regions on another”. But as humans, I feel the answer may not be one that can be drawn so simply on the blackboard.
On the interface of science and art
In the early quarter of 2021, the scientific news cycle has been abreast with interest in the landing of rovers on the faraway planet of Mars.2 Keeping with the times, I’d like to speak about one of the first scientists to ever conceptualize man’s journey through space. In 1485, a lone Italian scientist sat in his laboratory devising schematics for a device he termed the “ornithopter” – a winged-instrument that would be capable of propelling humans through the stars.3 While he would never actually get the chance to construct this machine, it is worthwhile to note how incredibly before his time this proposed invention was – it would take another 300 years before man would actually take flight… and even that would be only in a hot-air balloon.4 Beyond these early contributions to flight, this scientist would go on to provide valuable insight into the fields of human anatomy, physiology and beyond. In 1485 this Italian scientist drafted his primitive ideas for the ‘ornithopter’, yet it wasn’t until 1503 that he commenced work on the contribution to this world for which modernity remembers him most. In 1503, our Italian scientist commenced work on perhaps the most famous painting of all time.5 This painting is the Mona Lisa, and this individual who so easily blurred the boundaries between art and science is, of course, Leonardo da Vinci.
Sure – not everyone can be da Vinci. But everyone can learn something from his story. When I think of his story, I’m reminded that science and art can play off one another. In the fifteenth century, there were no medical textbooks – there were just the extraordinarily intricate drawings and works of artists such as da Vinci to guide medical and scientific practitioner’s contemporary to that era. To this day, engineers continue to draw inspiration from the artistic designs found littered throughout his famed notebooks, such as the aforementioned ornithopter. The role of art as both a catalyst for innovation in science and as a means to express it is one that should not be understated.
About the artist:
Adam is a third-year PhD student working in the lab of Prof. Stephen Newman at the University of Ottawa. His research concerns itself largely with developing new strategies for the nickel-catalyzed activation of strong carbon-oxygen bonds. Knowing how difficult it is to find adequate ways to bridge the gap between art and science, he is thankful for the opportunity to present his work in this edition of CIC NEWS. For more on Adam’s contributions to science and art, visit his website at www.thechempire.com.
- “Connection.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam- webster.com/dictionary/connection. Accessed 3 Mar. 2021.
- Vicky Stein (February 2021). “Tianwen-1: China’s first Mars mission”. Space.com. Retrieved 2021- 03-03.
- Judy Rumerman. “Early Helicopter Technology.”Centennial of Flight Commission, 2003. Retrieved 2021-03-03. https://www.centennialofflight.net/essay/Rotary/early_helicopters/HE1.htm
- Tom D. Crouch (2008). “Lighter Than Air”. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN978-0-8018-9127-4.
- Donald Sassoon (2001). “Mona Lisa: the history of the world’s most famous painting”. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-00-710614-1.