By Mala Radhakrishnan
I used to sleep ‘ til my electrons would drool
At P-32 _element_-ary school.
The things we were taught were just totally boring.
A mole of us atoms would always be snoring.
But one thing I learned there I’ve kept to this day:
“Soon, my students, you’ll beta decay
To become more mature and to capture the label
Of ‘S-32,’ and then you’ll be stable.
And when that time comes you’ll want celebration,
For you will be ready for graduation.
So look around now, and do count every peer.
Today there’s a mole, but you’ll soon disappear.”
So I watched as my friends all around me decayed,
And I felt left behind, slow and dismayed,
Abandoned by those who were thought to be deft.
In two weeks there was only half of us left.
And meanwhile, I’d hoped to impress my young lass
But was now in the bottom half of the class.
I spent every school day conspiring to court her
And remained, two weeks more, in the leftover quarter.
But two weeks more yet, and I still hadn’t parted.
Now six weeks had passed since this challenge first started.
Oh, what was my problem? I kept losing faith.
The fraction of atoms now left was one eighth.
Another two weeks and my hope for love waned.
One sixteenth of a mole of us atoms remained.
My lass had now probably found a new mate.
By the time I escaped here, it would be too late.
So I studied the past eight weeks with great courage,
And quickly, a pattern began to emerge.
I realized, from evidence existential,
That the decay of the class size was exponential!
See, every time two weeks came and then went,
The class size diminished by fifty percent.
‘Twas one mole times e to the minus kt,
Where k was ln 2 over 2 weeks, you see.
And t was the time, in units of weeks,
Since the teacher that lesson one fine day did speak.
The equation did serve as a useful tool
To predict, at time t, the number in school.
But then it all happened — I had my decay!
I was “S-32,” and I liked it that way.
Success carried with it the sweetest aroma,
My electrons excited as I got my diploma,
Which oddly contained a most curious addition.
It read, “You’ve earned honors and recognition
For thoroughly doing the mental athletics
To uncover the inherent first-order kinetics.”
When my love saw this honor she screamed out loud,
“Oh, my brilliant darling, of you I’m so proud!
Your wits have won over my heart in a snap.
Let’s let our orbitals overlap!”
So the one thing I learned from that school, ‘twas the worst —
That it need not matter who finishes first.
Everyone blossoms at different rates.
(But those who learn chemistry will always get dates.)
Mala Radhakrishnan is an assistant professor at Wellesley College and is the author of a book of poems about chemistry called “Atomic Romances, Molecular Dances.” Her aim is to use poetry, but also easy-to-understand analogies to teach such subjects as thermodynamics, kinetics and molecular reactions.