No one willing to chance being the only person to write something up here, eh? Someone needs to post first to get the ball rolling, eh? I'll take that plunge!
I couldn't've cared less about science in school at first, up until my first proper chemistry class, sophomore year in high school (US public school, 10th grade out of 12). At that point science became something more than just memorizing long, long, long, long lists of not particularly interesting facts: something to think about, to figure out, to do something with. With my interest finally piqued, and with all the advice I received saying, "If you like chemistry, you should start with a major in chemical engineering -- much easier to switch from ChemE to Chem, than vice versa," I entered Case Western Reserve University in 1999 planning to major in chemical engineering.
Spoiler alert: I kept with ChemE, graduating in 2004 after eight semesters of classes and two 9-month internships. I enjoyed the chemical engineering material for the most part, though the physical side of thermodynamics still gives me fits (WHY is this the best control volume?!?!?). O-Chem drove me nuts, seeming mainly a more-intense version of the same maddening memorization I hadn't cared for before. My most memorable class was an elective on the electrical, magnetic, and optical properties of materials, learning all about Fermi levels and band gaps and the whys/hows of all those named Effects: Hall, Peltier, etc.
I did one term of undergraduate research, under Prof. Donald Feke, where my task was to develop a proof-of-concept demonstration of an angled flow insert for an ultrasonic resonator flow chamber, to try to facilitate ultrasonic separation of particles. Happily, I found an acoustic impedance match with (something like) LDPE and about 14% glycerol in water, making a nifty video showing particle accumulation on the nodal (anti-nodal? can't recall) lines even with the flow insert in place. I think the research ended up going in a different direction, though, so no early publication for me. <shrug> Them's the breaks! It was good for me to have the early experience, however, and the apparatus design work, though relatively crude, whetted my appetite for what turned out to be similar aspects in my graduate work.
By the end of undergrad, I felt like I wasn't ready to be done with school yet. (What's wrong with me, I know...) After looking at the options, the deeper dive of graduate chemical engineering programs into the fundamentals of transport phenomena, thermo, and reaction kinetics really appealed to me. So, I applied to a few schools and, somewhat astonishingly to me (see "syndrome, impostor"), was admitted to MIT, where I worked in the group of Prof. William M Deen. My first-semester experience in 10.50 (MIT ChemE-ese for 'transport phenomena'), taught by Prof. Deen, drove home that the transport/kinetics combo was where I wanted to focus my learning.
The projects available at that time under Prof. Deen were all related to the chemistry of nitric oxide and its oxidative byproducts, and their toxicological effects as particularly pertains to carcinogenesis. My thesis work focused on the design and characterization of lab-scale delivery systems for reactive nitrogen oxides, to serve as tools for other toxicology researchers in studying potential carcinogenic effects in detail. Observing as the devices I constructed led to the collection of data by methods I'd adapted from literature, and then to neat conclusions to be published was tremendously satisfying. I know way more than any one person should about nitrogen oxide chemistry, though...
In addition to this main research path through transport and kinetics to a thesis, I also took an elective that first semester of Fall 2004 on quantum chemistry, 10.675. We didn't get a lot further than Hartree-Fock and DFT, but it caught my attention. I didn't do anything further with it during my graduate tenure, though.
Faced with entering the "real world," I was up against something of a quandary. I liked the thought of going into academia, but I hadn't developed a particular research interest that seemed strong enough to support a fledgling group as an assistant professor. So, after briefly surveying post-doc opportunities, I decided to look for an industrial research job. My wife and I both wanted to end up in the eastern portion of the U.S. Midwest, as that's where both of our families live. I applied to a few different companies, and was offered and accepted a position at Faraday Technology, Inc., near Dayton, OH--which, as it happens, is located only half an hour from my parents' house. Win!
Faraday's work centers around the application of pulsed electrochemical processing to a wide assortment of manufacturing and other process technologies, with the main areas of expertise in applications such as electropolishing and electroplating. One might notice that nowhere in the above did I mention anything about electrochemical experience, so the learning curve was ... rather steep. However, it's been fascinating material to learn and the team does great work there, and so it has been and continues to be a tremendous experience.
As part of one of my early projects at Faraday, I needed to assay electrolytes for metal ion concentrations such as copper and iron. In this way, I was introduced for the first time to complexometric titration (no ICP on-site at that time!) and thereupon to inorganic chemistry more generally, on which I was immediately hooked. Further reading on coordination chemistry, quantum mechanics (more on that in a bit), spin states, inorganic redox chemistry, and the like soon followed.
I'm one of those nutso people who likes reading journal articles and textbooks in my spare time. Further to that, in the last few years also the quantum chemistry has re-entered the scene, to the point where I now have a dual quad-core PowerEdge on my living room floor, running ORCA computations. In addition to some non-scientific thoughts bouncing around that might be book fodder some day, I would love for some of this personal computation work to turn out to be novel & publishable. A lot of the numbers I've crunched are ground well trodden before, but... never know!
I don't recall what post brought me over to Chem.SE from SuperUser, but I'm glad it did! It's been quite enjoyable starting to become familiar with the site and its membership--here's to many years of quality questions and answers!