I remember standing in an organometallic chemistry laboratory in Cape Town, South Africa. I was dressed in a white lab coat and safety glasses and surrounded by glassware and lab equipment. The persistent hum of the fume hood was overlaid by the chatter of a cheap radio. In my left hand I held a small glass sample vial which contained a hundred milligrams or so of a white crystalline material.
In that vial I held the only sample of a wholly new molecule. A molecule which, up until a day or so earlier, had not existed anywhere in our universe (or quite probably didn’t!). This molecule was one that I had made from simple starting materials. I had the analytical data to prove I had indeed made what I had set to—I created something new!
As a child I had favored science and mathematics over art. I hadn’t believed that I was creative. And yet, in that moment, I discovered that even scientists can be creative. It may not have the obvious aesthetic appeal of artistic works, but there is something quite beautiful in the art of chemical synthesis.
Since I am a scientist and a spiritual director, people are often curious about how I hold the two together. I have many different answers, but this moment is one of my favorites. I discovered my creativity as a human being in a chemistry laboratory—if that isn’t an example of finding God in all things, I am not quite sure what is!