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Education

Meat Meets Memoir, Science Stacks The Deck

by Jeff Huber
April 27, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 17

 

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Credit: Courtesy of Craig Perman
Perman: Then and now.
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Credit: Courtesy of Craig Perman
Perman: Then and now.

Craig A. Perman has literally seen sausage being made. From 1971 to 1975, Perman worked as a quality-control chemist at a meat-packing plant in his hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. It was hard work, made even harder by the fact that while Perman worked a full-time job during the plant’s graveyard shift, he was also pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the nearby University of Northern Iowa. Now, Perman has documented this hectic time in his life by writing his own chemistry-themed memoir, “Shenanigans: The Curious and Romantic Experiences of a Young Chemist, A True Story.”

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Credit: Courtesy of Craig Perman
“Shenanigans”: Perman’s tome.
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Credit: Courtesy of Craig Perman
“Shenanigans”: Perman’s tome.

The book, released earlier this year for Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, recounts Perman’s collegiate life with a sense of humor and nostalgia. Perman remembers the late nights he spent using hydrochloric acid and dimethyl sulfoxide to carry out fat analysis testing on hot dogs and bologna. He recollects the body-aching fatigue he felt as he attended classes during the day. And he reminisces about romances that sparked and then fizzled.

Perman tells Newscripts that he included these romantic tales to provide lay readers with a more well-rounded view of scientists. Chemists “have a very human side that isn’t necessarily about just being a geek,” he says.

Nevertheless, there’s still plenty to geek out about in Perman’s autobiography. For instance, one of the book’s triumphant moments occurs when Perman conducts Mohr titrations to test the saltiness of his meat-packing plant’s canned hams. After realizing that the plant is simply throwing away one of the titration’s resulting products, silver chloride, Perman develops and ultimately patents a process for recovering valuable silver from such waste discharge (US 4078918).

The discovery serves as a capstone to years of arduous toil—a period that provided Perman with a valuable lesson. “I learned that to have a dream does not automatically mean that it will come true except through hard work and a lot of problem solving,” the now-retired chemist says. “I would like this story to be an inspiration to those who have a dream.”

Scientists looking for similar inspiration when throwing a party might want to consider Cards Against Humanity, especially because the popular “party game for horrible people” has just released a science expansion pack.

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Credit: Cards Against Humanity
Cards Against Humanity: Now with more science.
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Credit: Cards Against Humanity
Cards Against Humanity: Now with more science.

For those unfamiliar, Cards Against Humanity works similarly to the party game Apples to Apples. Players are each dealt 10 white cards with a subject on them (in the case of the science pack, a white card could say something such as “The quiet majesty of the sea turtle”). Next, a player selects a black card with a statement on it (something such as “In what’s being hailed as a major breakthrough, scientists have synthesized [blank] in the lab”). Players then place the white card that they think best fills in the black card’s blank facedown in a pile. The player who dealt the black card subsequently reads the responses out loud before selecting the “best” white card. Whoever ends the game with the greatest number of “best” white cards wins.

Fair warning: Newscripts selected some uncharacteristically tame examples in describing this game. If you shell out $10 for the science pack, don’t be surprised to find some cards of more questionable taste. But all profits from the science pack go toward a scholarship for women pursuing undergraduate degrees in science, so there’s no need to feel too guilty for laughing.

Jeff Huber wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

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