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Be Inspired by This Blind UC-Davis Chemistry Student
(Photo: Gregory Urquiaga/UC-Davis)

Be Inspired by This Blind UC-Davis Chemistry Student

"I don't see atoms. Nobody can see atoms."

Henry "Hoby" Wedler is no stranger to the media spotlight. In fact, Wedler was featured as one the White House's Champions of Change earlier this year. But a recent video from the university he attends is particularly touching as it details the adversity he faces in everyday life as a blind chemistry student -- and how he doesn't seem to view it as adversity at all.

A graduate student seeking a PhD in chemistry at the University of California-Davis, Wedler has been asked many times how someone completely blind is able to conduct this intricate science where a visual is often important.

"I don't see atoms," Wedler said in the most recent video feature of the 25-year-old student. "Nobody can see atoms. And when I think about a molecule, I create a visual map of it."

In a similar way, he has created a visual map in his mind for getting around the campus and other daily activities.

"The reason I like organic chemistry so much is because I use the same skill I use to figure out where tables are in here, where desks are in a classroom, how to get around my college town or my hometown," Wedler said during an interview with Southern California Public Radio earlier this year. And I said that’s very similar to thinking about where electrons are in a benzene ring."

Watch the UC-Davis video profile on Wedler:

Wedler lobbied in Washington, D.C., last year before Congress for more audio books. The Sacramento Bee reported last year Wedler saying while there will always be a value in Braille, he thinks blind people can learn more faster using audio books:

Wedler sat down at his desk to demonstrate how he uses audio books and an electronic Braille note-taker simultaneously to read and take notes. While audio books play a big role, Wedler is quick to point out that Braille is still an essential learning tool.

"In my opinion, we totally need Braille. You don't want to pull out a recorder to learn everything," Wedler said.

Wedler said he can process more words per minute using an audio book, but Braille books allow users to process more details without having to constantly back up a recording.

More locally, he also championed an effort to change how buses in the area identify themselves.

"You learn very quickly that you can't look at the huge letter on the side of the bus, hearing something slightly inaccurately like B versus P versus C versus D, they sound very similar," Wedler said.

But seriously, how does Wedler do chemistry where seeing reactions taking place can be so important in experiments? KQED interviewed Welder last year asking this same question. In short, he gets some help from sighted people but also uses his sense of smell and hearing. But not wanting blind students to be dissuaded by others from doing chemistry, Wedler even hosts a camp for those visually impaired. Read more about KQED's account of the camp here.

Chemistry is not Wedler's only passion that seems to be enhanced by the fact that he can't see. Wedler leads a wine tour at Francis Ford Coppola Winery where the participants wear blindfolds allowing them to experience "what their non-visual senses are telling [them]." The setting for the tour, appropriately, is in the winery's lab.

Wedler leaves video viewers with a simple but very true phrase that he himself exemplifies: "Anyone can do anything with enough hard work."

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