Dear Chemistry Student

Water on Water

Dear Chemistry Student,

Once upon a time, at the ripe old age of 21, I was a high school chemistry teacher. I know people often have a bad reaction to studying chemistry. It seems difficult, abstract, and useless. Indeed, you don’t need to know that water molecules have a distorted tetrahedral arrangement in which the H—O—H angle is 104.5° to be able to get on with life each day. I get that. But I loved witnessing those epiphanies, those times when a struggling student’s mental eyes popped open, and for the first time, as if she’d just put on her first pair of glasses, her insight into her world grew sharper.

I loved chemistry so much I went back to university and became a research chemist. I had the privilege of working at DuPont, a global chemical company, the one that started the slogan “Better Living Through Chemistry.” But I’ll tell you something I could never admit back then. I didn’t really believe in God. I mean I didn’t say I didn’t so maybe I still did a little, but I mostly didn’t think about God except for in those quiet moments I tried to avoid by staying super-busy. You see, I knew there was more to life, but to me—perhaps like chemistry seems to you—faith seemed too difficult, too abstract, too useless. So I did what scientists do. I shut up and calculated. That worked for a while.

However, as time went by, I realized my children needed me, that being a wife and a mother is my top priority. The more I tried to do the right thing, the more all those questions about meaning and purpose started to come into the focus of an impending epiphany. I left my career. I became Catholic a few years later. I am so happy now.

I’ve come full circle. Next week, I will again be a chemistry teacher, this time using technology online so I can still be home to tend my priorities and you can still be home under your parents’ love and guidance. Kolbe Academy, our institution, is a Catholic school named after St. Maximilian Kolbe, the saint who offered his life for that of a young father’s. Our method is Ignatian, a classical education in a contemporary world. I’ll say!

If you ask me why you need to know the bond angles of water, I’ll tell you it is because that little precision is a key to understanding how our bodies and nature function. If you struggle with computation, I’ll tell you to keep trying because knowing the mathematical details of chemistry allows you to glimpse the language of the handiwork of God. You see, science can be a form of worship owed to the Creator. Science can also be a way to evangelize, for science unites us. Every human, together, can appreciate the marvels of science.

We will begin each class with a prayer. My prayer for you is that by knowing God better through the study of His creation, you will love God more so you can serve Him more and be happy with Him in Heaven forever. Amen.

Your teacher,
Mrs. Trasancos

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About the Author

Stacy Trasancos is a wife and homeschooling mother of seven. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Penn State University and a MA in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. She worked as a chemist for DuPont in the Lycra® and Teflon® businesses.

She teaches Chemistry and Physics for Kolbe Academy Online and Homeschool Program and serves as the Science Department Chair. She is teaching a set of summer mini-workshops titled "Science in the Light of Faith" for students, parents, other educators, or any Christian interested in the nuts and bolts of navigating science.

Similarly, she is teaching a "Reading Science in the Light of Faith" at Holy Apostles College & Seminary next Fall (2016). The course is funded by a John Templeton Foundation grant through John Carroll University for teaching science in seminaries. She is on the Board of Directors for ITEST (the Institute for the Theological Encounter with Science and Technology) where the essays from the course will be shared with the public.

Also in the Fall of 2016, she will teach a "Theological History of Science" course at Seton Hall University, where her mentor, the late Fr. Stanley L. Jaki was a distinguished professor. She is the author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki.

Her new book, Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science is forthcoming with Ave Maria Press...

She teaches, researches, and writes from her family's 100-year old restored mountain lodge in the Adirondack mountains, where her husband and children (and two German Shepherds) remain her favorite priorities. Here is her website.

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