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Mala Radhakrishnan

In human chemistry, Mala Radhakrishnan (c.1978-) is an American biophysical chemist noted for her 2011 collected works poetry chemistry book Atomic Romances, Molecular Dances, illustrated by American biochemist Mary O'Reilly, a collected set of 50 poems, written over a period of ten years, which employ a mix of poetry and easy-to-understand analogies (e.g. “Sex and the City” → “Sex and Acidity”) to formulate what seems to be Empedocles-style / Dr. Seuss mix of poetically-rhymed chemistry aphorisms and humanized stories. The following is an excerpt from Radhakrishnan’s book launch BBS interview (video below):

“When I think of chemistry, I always think of what are the atoms feeling on a molecular and atomic level and in a lot of ways, the reactions that they experience are similar to the relationships that people experience.”

The poems where done, according to Radhakrishnan, in an effort to help students, particularly high school students, learn thermodynamics, kinetics, and molecular reactions in a more realistic manner, namely in the framework of subjects on the mind of the typically coming of age student, such as relationships, dating, and sex, etc.
 An excerpt from Radhakrishnan’s poem “The Foiling Point of Water”, comparing the boiling points between methanol CH4O and water H2O, wherein one can sense the Dr. Suess flow of presentation. [6]

Discussion
Radhakrishnan gives descriptions of, for example, how “atoms and molecules fall in love and cheat on each other”, among other extrapolations, and or realisms, such how her poem "The Ion without a Name", about an ion who meets another ion on a bus, is similar to how she met her husband on a Greyhound bus. [3] In her poems, she seems to use a mix or blend of the extrapolate downward and the extrapolate upward approach; although more so, it seems, the former over the latter. In her own words: [5]

“I really try to humanize atoms and molecules”.

In this statement, to note, there is a bit of a backwards irony, in the sense that a human is in fact a molecule, at least according to the modern 21st century molecular formula or rather human molecular formula definition of things, and thus efforts to "humanize molecules", must be approached with a strong grain of salt, so that the humanization process does not become a game of incongruous charades or possibly false statements.

A few classic ventures down this path include: Dutch chemist and physician Herman Boerhaave stating that that force of affinity is “love, if love be the desire for marriage” (1732) and French chemist Jean Dumas commenting on this “there is some truth in Boerhaave's poetic comparison” (1837); speculating about the "feelings" (or not) of molecules in relation to each other's proximity (James Maxwell, 1878, in commentary on Carl von Nageli); speaking of “living and dead hydrogen atoms” (Albert Mathews, 1924); making assertions about the "free will", or lack there of, of molecules in respect to human molecules (C.G. Darwin, 1952), among others, each of which must be investigated in great detail, so that the entire presentation does not result to be a slipshod mess of agenda-based panpsychism (e.g. Christian de Quincey, 2002).

Someone who may well represent a sound middle ground in this approach is French engineer and chemical thermodynamicist Francois Massieu who in the 19th century compared humans to molecules, in their chemical composition, and then in this mindset addressed the puzzles as to how a molecule, such as water$H_2 0 \,$ (or by extension a human) can have a body and soul (in the scheme of water being split up into oxygen$O_2 \,$and hydrogen$H_2 \,$); or be alive vs dead; have morality, exist, and other philosophical issues. Modern approaches to these questions are well addressed in the the task of assigning chemical education homework problems to students to work out solutions on their own, although not without first giving some guidance of paths to avoid, as having traditionally being dead ends.

History
In circa 1998, Radhakrishnan wrote her first poem for an on-campus poetry reading, and the feedback was so good that she kept writing them, eventually becoming known in the Boston poetry scene, though typecast, she says with a laugh, as the ‘chemistry poet’.

 A comparative illustration of “dancing molecules” from English chemist Maxwell Eidinoff’s 1947 book Atomics for the Millions, in which, similar to Radhakrishnan, he employs analogy and or realism for illustrative teaching purposes. [4] Cover to Radhakrishnan's 2001 Atomic Romances, Molecular Dances which uses poetry and anthropomorphic chemistry illustrations to teach chemistry and physical chemistry concepts. [1]

In more detail, her parlay into poetry started when a friend invited her to an open mic poetry slam (when?), where she observed and became fascinated with what was going on. Although her first poems weren’t about chemistry, they eventually turned to this subject. Her first chemistry poem was “As the Magnetic Stir Bar Turns”, which she read at the open mic. One of her opens discusses the concept of a matchmaker as a human catalyst

Some of her other poem titles include: "Limiting Love", "The Flirt and the Inert", "Bridge Over Troubled H20", "The Radioactive Dating Game", and the "Amalgam in the Middle".

After completing her undergraduate degree at Harvard in 2000, in chemistry and physics, she spent several years teaching high school chemistry at San Jose, California, through the Teach for America program, during which time she began to employ the poetry teaching tactic to facilitate learning. After leaving San Jose to attend MIT, she continued to write scientific poems. When she realized that her poems could be educational, not just entertaining, she began choosing topics that students tend to struggle with, such as entropy and thermodynamics. [3] Her poems have since appeared in a textbook and in journals, to name a few: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, ChemInformation, Technology Review, and Tech Talk. [6]

Education
Radhakrishnan completed here AB in chemistry and physics at Harvard College in 2000 and her PhD in physical chemistry, with a dissertation on “Tackling the Bigger Picture in Computational Drug Design: Theory, Methods, and Applications to HIV-1 Protease and Erythropoietin Systems”, from MIT in 2007. Currently she is an assistant chemistry professor at Wellesley College, where her research interests are interdisciplinary, combining chemistry, physics, biology, applied mathematics, and computer science (computational modeling), with focus on understanding modeling of drug-receptor interactions (see: drug-receptor thermodynamics) at the molecular level. [2]

See also
 ● Literature chemistry ● Literature thermodynamics ● Equation of love ● Barri Gold (ThermoPoetics, 2010)● Erich Muller (similar teaching style)● James Ferri (ChBE student-produced HT-applied video projects)● John Hodgson (Molecules Humans, 2002)● Johann Goethe (top ten greatest poets; Elective Affinities, 1809) ● “The Story of the Contented Molecule” (1941)● Primo Levi (The Periodic Table, 1975)
 A 2011 BBS interview with Radhakrishnan about her chemistry poetry. Radhakrishnan reading her poem "The Radioactive Dating Game".

References
1. (a) Radhakrishnan, Mala. (2011). Atomic Romances, Molecular Dances (abs). LuLu.com.
(b) Marder, Jenny. (2011). “Drooling Electrons, Thermodynamics, and Beta Decay … in Verse.” PBS Newsroom, Science Thursday, Nov. 17.
2. Mala Radhakrishnan (profile) – Wellesley College.
3. Shay, Sara. (2011). “The Bard of Chemistry, Technology Review, Nov/Dec.
4. (a) Eidinoff, Maxwell L. and Ruchlis, Hyman. (1947). Atomics for the Millions. Whittlesey House.
(b) John. (2009). “Maurice Sendak’s first book was a science textbook”, Apr 06, SuperPunch, Blogspot.com.
(c) Dancing molecules (photo) – WeHeartIt.com.
(d) Anon. (2009). “Arts and Sciences”, Collecting Children’s Books, Mar 24, Blogspot.com.
5. Levine, Mindy. (2011). “Mala Radhakrishnan: an Interview”, Nesacs.org.
6. Filosa, Michael P. (2011). “Book Review: Atomic Romances, Molecular Dances Chemistry Poetry by Mala L. Radhakrishnan”, Nucleus, Oct.

Further reading
● McCarty, Eric P. (2003). Dancing Molecules: An Intimate Dance with the Divine (poem: Dancing Molecules, pg. 21). iUniverse.
● Heinemann, Lynn. (2005). “Q&A: Graduate Student Experiments, Discovers Poetry in Chemistry”, MIT News, Mar 30.
● Sargent, Ted. (2006). The Dance of Molecules: How Nanotechnology is Changing our Lives. Thunder’s Mouth Press.

External links
Mala Radhakrishnan (directory) – Wellesley College.
Radhakrishnan, Mala Lakshmi – WorldCat Identities.
The Radioactive Dating Game – Facebook.
Amalgam in the Middle (2005) – TechnologyReview.com.
Chem poetry – OreillyScienceArt.com.

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