Following the pre-med track at Georgetown University requires becoming well acquainted with chemistry. Pre-med coursework includes two semesters of “General Chemistry,” two semesters of “Organic Chemistry” and one semester of “Biochemistry.” Though weekly “General Chemistry” quizzes, titration experiments and Monday night orgo exams are not among my fondest college memories, I will begrudgingly admit that five semesters of chemistry classes have proven useful. Chemistry provides an important framework for understanding biological processes, and its principles can be applied to understand life at Georgetown.
Dynamic equilibrium describes the state of both college students and reversible chemical reactions. For a reversible chemical reaction, the concentrations of reactants and products will remain fixed under constant environmental conditions. Le Chatelier’s principle explains that if a variable contributing to equilibrium, such as reactant concentration or temperature, is changed, the equilibrium position shifts to counteract that change. If the concentration of reactant molecules is reduced, the concentration of product molecules will decrease to restore the proper balance between reactants and products. Le Chatelier’s principle is at play in biological systems, allowing the inner contents of cells to maintain a balanced state of homeostasis. Le Chatelier’s principle can also serve as a model for maintaining equilibrium in one’s life at Georgetown.
As a college student, maintaining homeostasis involves knowing when to take a break, finding enough time to sleep and prioritizing self-care amidst one’s responsibilities. It can be difficult to maintain homeostasis, however, when multiple midterm exams are coincidentally scheduled for the same week or when the responsibilities of a club become overwhelming. In cells, Le Chatelier’s principle is enforced by the laws of thermodynamics, but as students, we have to be more purposeful about making adjustments when the equilibrium positions of our lives shift. During my time at Georgetown, daily runs with the Georgetown University Running Club have allowed me to abide by Le Chatelier’s principle and resist the changes in my equilibrium caused by particularly stressful days.
Every day at 5 p.m., I can be found at the John Carroll statue. The meeting time and place of GRC is a constant amid the hubbub of classes, running experiments in a lab, club commitments, other extracurricular activities, requirements of being a functional human being — such as grocery shopping, laundry, sleeping — and the rest of the busyness of life at Georgetown. On stressful weeks — such as the ones in which the midterm gods conspire to schedule major assessments in every class — daily GRC runs help me feel grounded and find a new equilibrium position amidst the intensified pressure.
At Georgetown, a multitude of pre-professional clubs encourage building professional connections and obtaining competitive leadership positions. But no one shows up to the John Carroll statue in running clothes at 5 p.m. to network or to boost their resume. We come to spend time with one another and to come up for air after a long day. Our running routes take us to national monuments, to the White House, down Embassy Row, through the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and around Theodore Roosevelt Island. Hourlong runs past these stunning national landmarks facilitate conversations that move far beyond small talk, allowing me to truly get to know the thoughtful, loving and hilarious people who comprise our community. I love hearing about other people’s days on our runs — highlights, challenges, interesting class discussions and things they’re looking forward to — and I have been so thankful to have had such a reliable support system on both my bad days and my good ones.
The laws of thermodynamics, as expressed by Le Chatelier’s principle, allow biological systems to be resilient to environmental perturbations. The application of Le Chatelier’s principle to the busy life of a college student can similarly facilitate resilience in the face of stressors and pressures. The consistent support of the running club has allowed me to maintain an equilibrium set point while at Georgetown and to resist the shifts to my equilibrium threatened by stressful labs, high-stakes exams and demanding extracurricular activities. Running has become a critical component of my self-care. I encourage all Georgetown students to find their own means of abiding by Le Chatelier’s principle, be it a run, a coffee break, a good book or a nap. Prioritizing self-care activities like these allows college students to intentionally resist threats to their equilibrium position and mental health. Maintaining homeostatic equilibrium is critically important for chemical systems, cells and college students alike.
Sarah Reuter is a senior in the College. Molecular Musings appears online every other Wednesday.