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About Dr. Michelle Francl

Michelle M. Francl, Ph.D. is a Professor of Chemistry at Bryn Mawr College, where she has been on the faculty since 1986, and an Adjunct Scholar of the Vatican Observatory. She is a quantum chemist who has developed theoretical methods for computational chemistry and who is interested in the structures of molecules that behave in ways that chemists might not predict they do. She is interested in the philosophy and history of chemistry, and her essays on science, culture and policy appear regularly in Nature Chemistry. She was elected a Fellow of the American Chemical Society in 2009.

Michelle is also a theologian who writes a regular column, Catholic Spirituality, for the Philadelphia Archdiocese's news site, CatholicPhilly.com. Her reflections living a contemplative life in the midst of the everyday chaos that comes with being a teacher, wife and mother can be found in a number of print and online venues. She gives the occasional retreat, and blogs on life, laundry, prayer and God at Quantum TheologyNot By Bread Alone.

Dusted by stars
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I have had Jon Larsen’s  In Search of Stardust on my stack of books to read because last spring the upper division research methods course I taught did an experiment to measure the heat capacities of meteorites, using the method developed by the Vatican Observatory’s Guy Consolmagno, SJ and Bob Macke, SJ and colleagues. The students were curious about the astrochemistry context (where do the samples come from, how can you distinguish regular rocks from these stony aliens) and I’ve been collecting resources for this coming spring when a new batch of students will make these measurements. I tend to think of meteor strikes as spectacular and rare events, fireballs roaring through the sky that finally come crashing to earth.  Still they aren’t as rare was you might think — tens of thousands of meteorites weighing as much or more than a euro coin hit the earth’s surface each year, most of them landing in the water.  It gives me a visceral … Continue reading

Unexpected eclipses
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“Aunt Chel,” called my youngest niece as she bounded through the front door of my dad’s house, “it looks funny outside.” I got up and went to check. I agreed, something was off. The sky was dimmer than it should be and an odd color, not the desert blue I expected late on a Sunday afternoon, but tinged green. Thunderstorm incoming? No, not a cloud in the sky. And I’m in the desert. Right. Fire? This is more of a worry, there is only one road out from my dad’s small farm. We don’t smell smoke, but still, I’m uneasy. And then there are the trees….something is just not right. We go back inside to check if there is anything on the Cal Fire site about nearby fires. My dad and sister-in-law have worried looks on their faces as I describe the sky, will we need to evacuate? As I’m opening up my laptop , my stepmother mentions in passing … Continue reading