Darkness and light | October 30, 2017 Issue - Vol. 95 Issue 43 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 95 Issue 43 | p. 2 | Editor's Page
Issue Date: October 30, 2017

Darkness and light

Department: Editor's Page
Keywords: Education

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This quotation may be familiar to many of you. It is attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. and dates back to 1963. It first appeared in King’s book “Strength to Love,” a collection of some of his sermons in which he laid out the foundations of his philosophy of nonviolence to protest racial inequality. This quotation is also central to a story that came to my inbox days after the recent shooting in Las Vegas, where a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers, leaving at least 58 dead and about 500 injured.

Shocked by the news of the incident, MaryKay Orgill, a professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, decided to talk to her class about how the mass shooting affected them. The university is located a little over 1.6 km from the location of the attack, several students attended the concert, one lost a friend, and others had friends that were injured. In her address she referred to King’s quotation because it reminded her that “when terrible things happen I could lash out at the bad thing, or I could try to be a source of goodness and light.”

Many tears were shed, including Orgill’s. With King’s words still in her mind, she went on with the thermodynamics lesson and explained Le Chatelier’s principle to her students: “A change in one of the variables that describes a system at equilibrium produces a shift in the position of the equilibrium that counteracts the effect of this change.”

Coincidence can be a beautiful thing. Orgill immediately saw a connection between Le Chatelier’s principle and King’s quotation and mentioned this to her students. At the end of the class, she asked them to email her with their ideas of how they thought the quotation and the principle were linked.

Here are excerpts from just two of the more than 80 responses she received that exemplify what those students took from the lesson:

“Today we learned that, according to Le Chatelier’s principle, when stress is applied to a system that moves it out of equilibrium, that system will shift to counteract that stress and reestablish equilibrium. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote ... applies Le Chatelier’s principle by showing how when faced with great darkness and evil that damages daily life, the only way we can bring our lives back into equilibrium is by adding the opposite stress. The opposite stresses in this case would be light and love.”

“Our city has dealt with an act of hatred. The hatred has disturbed the functioning and life of the city, our equilibrium has been disrupted. To bring back the equilibrium we must fill our surrounding with love which will vanquish the hatred that has come in. In terms of Las Vegas, I am so proud of what we as citizens are able to do. We have shown that through unity we can start to help to heal our city. We have already begun to oppose the stress through uniting ourselves to provide supplies, donate blood, provide emotional support, and many other resources for victims, their families, and everyone affected. We have in fact started proving that our love will drive out the hate and restore our equilibrium.”

There is always some good that comes out of the most evil act, and these excerpts are a celebration of that. A chemistry lesson turned into a tough life lesson that Orgill’s students embraced. Their comments show maturity, compassion, and determination, and I’m proud to see that values such as these are defining the next generation of young chemists.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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Kathy Carrigan (October 30, 2017 6:41 PM)
Thank you for sharing this powerful experience. MaryKay Orgill should be proud of how her students supported each other through this tragic experience. Relating the MLK quote to the concept of equilibrium was moving for me. This demonstrates that we, as Chemistry Educators, see more than the classroom when we work to educate our students.
Bibiana Canpos Seijo (November 5, 2017 11:02 AM)
Thank you for your comment, Kathy. I couldn't agree more.

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