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Five years ago, I was living in rural Ireland with little more than sheep for company. My boyfriend lived in another country and I had left my university friends behind. It was a lonely time. One day I took it in my head to begin to write, with the primary objective of passing the time. At first, the words came out at the lethargic pace of a sleepy sloth. This was how my book started, in its highs and lows.

When Covid arrived I had made another move, to Brussels. A new country with new potential doors, that were all sealed shut by the pandemic. Loneliness was an ever more present companion in the corners of my quiet, empty apartment. I began to think of old friends. Amazing people I had met at university, at school. As I thought of them, my book expanded, falling onto the page in a flurry of words and fond memories.

At one point, one book wasn’t enough, the ideas kept coming. The pressure to write released in bursts of short stories. I was inspired by my friends. My past. My job as a chemist. I took to social media under the pen name J. S. Xander. Once I entered social media I had to ask myself a very fundamental question, because, on social media, you must present yourself with a personal brand. So I asked myself what is my brand? What do I stand for? I am a Chemist by background, a writer, and actress by passion. I was writing “Science stories for grown-ups,” and in this, I discovered something about myself. Who I am. Scientist and Artist. Two conflicting sides, or sides that are theoretically conflicting, that come together.

Writing has been a process of discovering myself and who I am. More importantly, however, it has been an act of reaching out to others. I published my first novel in November 2021 and dedicated it to the friends and family who taught me the world spins in more than one direction. It is a story of friendship and culture with a hint of terrorism. When I published, people from across my sphere of life reached out to me. I have been reminded of the power that a story has to help you connect with those around you.

The “Science Stories for Grown-Ups”? They developed further because of another bond in my life. I reached out to an old friend. A great artist. Someone who had walked with me through the flames of the University of Edinburgh Chemistry course. Together we molded the stories further and this summer will debut our first Science Communication show at the world-famous Fringe Theatre Festival in Edinburgh.

It started. It ended. It’s somewhere in the middle. It would not have been possible without my friends. Keep your friends close. In this era of messy, superficial communication try to make real connections with others. Your classmates can be your greatest source of inspiration. The people you are close to already and the people you still haven’t gotten to meet and spend time with. You never know, what magical, amazing endeavors you can accomplish with the might of your community behind you.

As you ponder on that, I hope you can enjoy a short science story.

Silent Night

Frank the water molecule lay on the blades of grass. It wasn’t the first time he was in this situation. After multiple centuries on earth, Frank had been almost everywhere and done almost everything. He even knew the names of most objects. Unusual for a molecule. Only old hats like Frank had the ability to comprehend the patterns of bonds and emissions of light that made each object unique. That was why Frank could recognize the patterns of phosphorus, nitrogens and carbons emitting green wavelengths of light underneath him as GRASS.

At the beginning of his existence, only glimpses and pieces came from the world, however, over time the puzzle had come together to give him a clear picture. In particular, he had learnt a lot when he once spent three years in a dusty water bottle that had fallen behind a cupboard of a middle-school history class. It had been illuminating. Centuries of existence had flowed into each other, settling as pearls of knowledge.

So he lay on the grass. His previous posting had been a beer bottle, but he’d accidentally been dropped on the ground. Warm rays of light were coming from the sun and Frank knew what would happen soon.

Sure enough! A few minutes later the light started filling him with a vibrant energy. Frank felt the bonds keeping him close to the grass weaken as he started to buzz! With a few shakes, he was off!

He floated up into the air.

It was a familiar journey and the sky was waiting.

Winds pushed him around through their cool breeze.

Time passed.

After quite a while, Frank resigned himself to this being one of the longer trips in the sky.

The world merged below, emitting light and heat from its various surfaces.

Floating along, Frank arrived to a space in the sky with a more than average number of water molecules, along with other particles and molecules in the air. The breeze turned him and with immense glee, he recognized an old friend, Walter! He had known Walter from his time in the middle school water bottle. They’d enjoyed many spirited discussions over those three stagnant years.

“Hey, Walter!” Frank yelled out to his old pal.

The breeze slowed. The temperature dropped. A large number of water molecules were just hanging around. A dust particle stood between Frank and Walter, so Frank made his way over. It was a perfect place to just chill and chat. Walter took his queue. They latched onto the grainy surface.

“Frank! How long has it been!” Walter seemed thrilled to see him. They aligned their bonds, oxygen to hydrogen, it was the way water molecules would interact, so their charges were well paired. The temperature dropped some more.

“What was your last posting?” Frank asked after having told his tale of the beer bottle.

A chill was setting as they moved further up. Walter and Frank relaxed on the dust particle. Other molecules followed their example. Now Walter had a stranger on his other side who had also aligned himself to Walter’s bonds. As the air froze, more and more water molecules clumped along the dust particle. A crowd of oxygens and hydrogens was forming in perfectly aligned hexagonal structures. Unperturbed, Frank and Walter chatted away.

Crystalline hexagons were forming all across the sky. Their agglomerate became heavier.

Gravity doesn’t appreciate anything above a certain mass to be airborne. Unless it has wings.

The snowflakes started to fall.

Frank knew when the pull of the earth started to take effect, instead of going up, their particle started to go down. He paid it no mind. It had not been his first time as a snowflake. Instead, he kept on asking his friend about his travels. Where had he gone after spending a year in a rose? Was the rose he was part of given to anyone interesting? Walter was even older thank

Frank, he had the wealth of millennia of stories with a young spirit! Always ready for the next adventure.

Their snowflake meandered downwards, taking them towards earth at a steady pace. Walking in the air. Floating in the moonlit sky.

In the descent, the snowflake started to take a more unique form, modified by its encounters along the way. Frank was knocked by a nitrogen molecule and slightly turned away from Walter. It was disappointing as it put an abrupt end to a thrilling conversation. However, he knew the life of a water molecule was filled with the unexpected. He sighed comfortably after the catch-up with his friend. Lulled by their slow descent.

The world below was getting closer.

White and silent. Trees already covered by a dusting of other iced water. Snowflakes, so similar and so different from Frank’s own.

Frank was happy. He had met an old friend. What other gift could he ask for?

It was a peaceful night.

Before they landed he glimpsed a lit window. A family sitting together. A tree lit up inside.
They slid slowly on the ground. Cushioned by more of their brethren. Their bonds fitting together with other water molecules like the embrace between loved ones.

Bonded in unique crystalline forms, Frank interlinked with other waters to cover a piece of the world.

In their carpet of white, they dreamed, a silent night.

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