Mirrors in Science: The Best Discoveries Cannot Be Planned, André Koch Liston, UG '23 (2262642)
When an unusual phenomenon crosses our work in the lab, the pressure of academic productivity asks us to ignore it if it doesn't relate directly to our research. I think this arrangement is risky and counter-scientific. Here, I present on how a little bit of curiosity, if coupled with a little bit of scientific rigor, can become a path to a more intuitive understanding of scientific concepts. Midway in my Thesis, I came across the unusual chroming of a scintillation vial — a very thin mirror-like film that deposited on the glass, seemingly out of nowhere. By resisting the urge to ignore it, I investigated it further and came up with a possible explanation for the effect: the complete electronic valency of Ytterbium ([Xe] 4f14 6s2) endows it with a spherically symmetric electron cloud, which reduces its melting point and, once its oxidation releases heat, might create a non-zero vapor pressure of Ytterbium. Though far from the focus of my research, and maybe not even entirely accurate, the reasoning created by this project still highlights the importance of spherical symmetry in chemical elements and exemplifies the central role of curiosity in science.