Sisters goin’ Supercritical

I met a couple of chemical engineers today, both of whom happened to be Muslim women. I took the opportunity to delve into a subject which had never before stirred my hyperactive curiosity.

“So what’s exciting in the field of chemical engineering?” I rashly asked one of them.

“Supercritical fluids,” she replied without hesitation.

“Super-what?” I said, beginning to regret my recklessness.

She proceeded to introduce me to her magical world of cutting-edge science – without the jargon.

Apparently back in the olden days we had solids, liquids and gases – but now we have a new addition to the family of matter – the supercritical fluid. It can behave like a gas and/or a liquid depending on the conditions its put under, falling somewhere in-between.

“And what can we do with them?” I asked, with genuine curiosity and desperate hope that the answer wouldn’t be technical beyond my brain’s capacity.

The answer was surprisingly ordinary.

“Well, decaffeination for example.”

“Like in tea and coffee?” I was expecting something more technical.

“Yes. And water purification.”

“Impressive”. (more useful applications listed here)

She went on to explain, with infectious passion, how there was still so much to learn about super fluids and their possible applications, and how she wanted to go on to research and contribute to a new area of science.

I left the conversation both enlightened and glad that there were intelligent folk out there exploring the edges of science for the benefit of humanity.

I also wondered why no-one had ever inspired me with the wonders of chemical engineering before.

Maybe one of the reasons we need more women to enter scientific fields is so that they can explain it to the rest of us in simple, jargon-free words that infect us with a new-found awe for the world.

I’m not saying that men are necessarily bad at explaining science – I just know I probably wouldn’t have even attempted this conversation with one.

Let go of the jargon, man. Reach out and share the wonder 🙂

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