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Chemistry Department

As a chemistry student, you’ll enjoy small classes (including introductory chemistry), significant original research experiences in our modern laboratories, wide ranging student-faculty collaboration, varying teaching methods that serve diverse learning styles, and opportunities to teach others through our mentor program.

Changing the Face of Science

Jessi L. Smith, a noted expert on social psychology, will deliver the Scholars' Convocation at noon Wednesday, April 1, in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101. The lecture is free and open to the public with a free pizza lunch provided.

Smith, a professor of psychology at Montana State University, has conducted extensive research on theories of stereotypes, with a focus on understanding the practices and policies that create equitable environments. At MSU, she chairs a 47-member team charged with enhancing faculty diversity and equity in order to foster learning among all faculty and students.

Smith's talk, titled "Changing the Face of Science: How to Create a More Diverse and Inclusive STEM Community," will feature Smith's work in experimental social psychological science. Smith will present her findings on the prevalent role of unintentional biases within the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) community, and discuss how to create more equitable environments in these fields.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot to the east. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. You can request accommodations from Conference Operations.

Shaping Students

Two Mentored Advanced Projects (MAPs) in theatre, one in chemistry, an internship with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and a job managing the campus pub — the key points on Ben Doehr ’15’s resume indicate the chemistry/economics double major’s depth and breadth of knowledge.

Grinnell strives to produce “T-shaped students” such as Doehr, the depth and breadth represented respectively by the vertical and horizontal line of a T. This model stands in contrast to both the traditional university model, which emphasizes depth, and the perception of the liberal arts model, which is sometimes viewed as providing a base of knowledge a mile wide and an inch deep.

When they were applying to colleges, both Doehr and Iulia Iordache ’15 wanted something they struggled to find elsewhere. Iordache was looking for an alternative to the system of higher education in her native Romania, which would have required her to know exactly what she wanted to study when she applied. Doehr wanted to have the opportunity to study physics and economics in depth while also doing technical theatre and design work. 

Both have credited the College with expanding their knowledge within their key areas of study and helping them develop transferrable skills such as critical thinking and strong writing skills.

Developing deeper understanding

Doehr and Iordache point to MAPs as a key means of gaining depth. MAPs offer students the opportunity to work one-on-one with a faculty mentor. The results of these collaborations are frequently presented at academic and professional conferences as well as on campus.

Doehr likes to joke that being manager of the campus pub, Lyle’s, has taught him as much about economics as his coursework has. It’s not that much of an exaggeration: “Managing the pub gave me a very hands-on experience on the practical side of things,” Doehr says. His MAPs with the theatre department also allowed him hands-on work with interactive design. He and fellow student Caleb Sponheim ’15 created a series of three interactive installations in Roberts Theatre.

Iordache also credits her professors — both the degree to which they care about their students’ success and how accessible they are — for the depth of her knowledge. Iordache completed an education MAP that involved traveling to Romania to study the impact of voluntourism on the local population. Initially, she intended to be an economics major, but changed her mind and pursued psychology instead. She added a second major in Russian, and after completing a summer MAP with Assistant Professor of education Cori Jakubiak, decided to pursue international education when she graduates.

Establishing a broad base of knowledge

Iordache came to Grinnell in part because the open curriculum allowed her a chance to explore her interests. Outside of class, her perspective has been broadened by the views of other students. On a regular basis, she finds herself having conversations that relate to what she is studying. “We were talking about dualism in my psychology class,” Iordache says, “and I ended up having a conversation about dualism versus materialism in the Grill with a friend who wasn’t even in the class. It was a great discussion.” Iordache enjoys these kinds of conversations because everyone brings their own knowledge to bear on a subject.

A summer internship with the FDIC helped Doehr realize how his breadth of knowledge benefited him outside classes. He walked in knowing very little about the day-to-day operations of the FDIC, but quickly learned how the organization worked. He worked with a number of young FDIC employees and found that he could write on the same professional level as they could. He credits his liberal arts education for both his writing skills and giving him the ability to tackle new problems without being specifically trained for them.

Choose Your Own

Are you ready to shape your own learning? The individually advised curriculum at Grinnell College puts you in charge.

There’s only one required course outside of your major, the First-Year Tutorial. So each semester you’ll have 16­–18 credits for exploring the academic world.

Regardless of the courses you choose, you’ll learn how to think critically, to communicate well orally and in writing, and to work collaboratively with a diverse group of people.

You’ll have a guide for your academic explorations. Your First-Year Tutorial professor will also serve as your academic adviser until you declare a major.

Finding Unexpected Interests

One of the main reasons Emma Lingle ’18 chose Grinnell was because of its open curriculum. “It gives you time to figure out what you want to do,” she says. During her first semester, fall 2014, she took courses in anthropology, environmental systems science, French, and her tutorial, A History of Food in the United States.

Anthropology was a new subject for Lingle and she thoroughly enjoyed it. “I love the idea of learning about different cultures,” she says, “and because I love to travel so much I like the idea of knowing the origins of so many people’s ways of life.”

So when it came time to register for spring classes, another anthro class was at the top of her list. Lingle’s adviser, Assistant Professor of History Al Lacson, says, “I am thrilled when students identify an unexpected intellectual interest.”

He likes to ask students why they find a particular academic discipline interesting. “It’s important for their growth to think about the kind of questions and issues that matter most to them,” he says.

Lingle also appreciates Grinnell’s reputation in the sciences. To flesh out her technical side this spring, after going light on it last fall, she’s taking chemistry and intro to statistics. “College isn’t the time where you close off your possibilities for the future. College is something that should open you up to all the possibilities,” she says.

Lingle says, “A lot of my friends knew what they wanted to do already, at the end of our first semester.” That can be intimidating for students like Lingle, who is still exploring. But she found reassurance from Lacson.  

“There’s a reason students don’t need to formally choose a major until their second year,” he says. “The point of college is to help students figure out their interests — not just service interests that were developed as high school students. College years provide students with an opportunity to determine the kind of public and private self that they want to fashion for themselves.”

Designing Your Own Major

Students who don’t identify a major quickly may also find reassurance in the story of Amul Gyawali ’15. An international student from Katmandu, Nepal, Gyawali chose Grinnell because he wanted the option of taking classes in any department he might find interesting. He says, “You have the opportunity of developing a side interest. Academically that helps you. You end up getting a well-rounded education.”

One class that especially shaped Gyawali’s direction was History of the Modern Middle East with Caleb Elfenbein, assistant professor of history and of religious studies. “The class opened my eyes,” Gyawali says. “It made me realize how important the colonial legacies still are in the region and how interested I was in the subject.”

Gyawali was so interested that he developed an independent major in colonial and post-colonial studies with Elfenbein and Shuchi Kapila, professor of English, as his advisers. “Grinnell’s open curriculum helps you take ownership of your education,” Gyawali says. “At the same time, you’re working very closely with your advisers. The adviser-student relationship is what makes it all work.”

Gyawali adds that the professors have the highest degrees in their field — they know their stuff. “They also work hard to get to know you — your personal interests and your academic interests,” he says. “So when they give you personal, well-crafted advice for your sake, it makes it a little bit more comforting.”

Whether you pursue an established major or craft your own, the individually advised curriculum puts you and your intellectual needs and desires at the center.

Emma Lingle ’18 is from Webster Groves, Mo. Amul Gyawali ’15 is from Katmandu, Nepal.

Agents of Change

Campus committees abound at Grinnell and are among the numerous ways for students to leave their footprint. High student participation in campus committees may be an obvious result of self-governance.

“Self-government” and “a democratic student community” were concepts invoked by the College’s founders, notes Chris Jones, College archivist. Student representation on campus committees was regularly documented in the early 1900s.

So, the work of student involvement in the inner workings of the Grinnell campus is indeed a well-established practice. Some committees are elected; some are appointed; some are show-interest-and-you-are-in.

Benefits to students

“Through the Rosenfield Committee, I'm involved in the process of bringing fantastic speakers to campus to talk about issues of human rights and international relations,” says Nipun Basrur ’15, a chemistry major. “I have the opportunity to meet and interact with these speakers and to plan events and symposiums on topics that I personally care about — an incredibly rare opportunity for undergraduate students.”

Basrur is also a member of the Student Educational Policy Committee (SEPC) for chemistry. Each academic department has its own SEPC. Basrur says, “I'm able to build a closer relationship with other majors and faculty and learn more about the planning and working of an academic department — which will be helpful if I choose to continue in academia in the future.”

Roni Finkelstein ’15 says, “I have learned so much about event planning, college operations, and networking from being involved in campus committees. I've also had invaluable enlightening conversations with accomplished scholars and professionals. My involvement with campus committees has shaped my perspective on my own career path.”

Last year, Finkelstein was involved in the Budget Planning Committee as Student Government Association treasurer. She currently serves on the Grinnell Prize Advisory Committee, the Rosenfield Program Committee, and the SEPC for history.

“I reach out to my social networks to gather opinions about what other students would like to see happen and share those opinions with staff and faculty,” Finkelstein says. “By gathering student opinion, committees become more effective in their missions to enrich campus life.”

Benefits to campus

Sarah Purcell ’92, professor of history and director of the Rosenfield Program, also knows well the benefits students gain from campus service. As a student, she served on the committee for the program she now directs.

“Everything in the Rosenfield Program involves students. It’s impossible to imagine doing this work without them,” Purcell says. “Students are the majority on the committee, are full voting members, and have input from ideas to planning to execution.”

Three students talking together in a committee

Grinnell’s committee work culture “is self-gov in practice,” she says. “Sharing committee responsibilities helps students to gain experience. Committee work is a great way to get to know Grinnell and build skills such as workplace etiquette. It’s definitely a resume builder, especially if the student has taken an active role and can talk about specific projects and their part in them.”

Mark Peltz, Daniel and Patricia Jipp Finkelman Dean for the Center for Careers, Life and Service, views student committee involvement as both a leadership and a learning experience.

“Students at Grinnell have uncommon opportunities to be involved in academic departments, standing committees, and task forces that directly impact the student experience. I tell students to take the role seriously. ‘You are a student whose voice is being heard so be an active participant in the process.’”

Peltz also sees a direct tie to self-governance. “Student participation is an expectation here, more so than at other places. Grinnell’s commitment to self-governance is the foundation on which committee decisions are made — from SEPCs where students play a role in recruitment and hiring of faculty to participating on Board of Trustees’ committees*. Students’ active involvement serves us better as a campus community.”

*The Student Government Association’s president and two vice-presidents regularly attend and participate on Board of Trustee committees.

Benefits for all

Basrur agrees: “When you give passionate and intelligent students the resources to plan events or student policies, our campus can only benefit.”

Nipun Basrur ’15, a chemistry major, is from Bangalore, India. Roni Finkelstein ’15, a history major, is from Tenafly, New Jersey.

For the Love of Science

Before classes begin, the Grinnell Science Project (GSP) brings together selected students who are interested in science and creates a community that helps them feel comfortable with college life both inside and outside the classroom.

“GSP was a huge blessing. For one thing, the program got me a head start on understanding the confusing passageways of the mysterious Noyce Science Center. But it did so much more than that. I met a lot of people who shared my common interests, was acquainted with professors that I had class with later in my college career, and gained a lot of confidence in myself during GSP,” says Lizzie Eason ’17, who participated in the program last year.

GSP students meeting with a birdOne aspect of the program is a week-long pre-orientation  program.  Over the course of a week, students learn about the services and structures of the College.

The program responds to different learning styles — favoring workshop- and project-based classes in addition to lectures — and provides both role models and contexts for the study of science. “Grinnell students feel that they are part of a scientific community, we accommodate different learning styles with different pedagogical approaches, and we involve students in faculty research from the beginning of their experience here,” says Jim Swartz, Dack Professor of Chemistry.

Faculty members discuss various aspects of Grinnell’s academic program and strategies for excelling in science and mathematics courses. The GSP students participate in both sample classes and a research project.

“It was nice to just get used to the college environment without having to stress about classes. I could take time to really make friends, get advice from professors, and just enjoy myself, which is something I don't think I would have had much time to do if I had come to Grinnell when classes began,” says Eason.

Students work together to solve a puzzleIn the early 1990s, Grinnell observed that students — especially women, first-generation college students, and students of color — would enter Grinnell intending to major in the sciences, then fail to do well in the introductory courses and choose a major in another division. With data gathered from students, the College discovered that environmental and socioeconomic factors were interfering with students’ academic success in the sciences.

GSP teaches science the way science is actually practiced. It also creates a peer as well as faculty and staff support network for students. In addition to GSP participants, lots of other students have benefitted from curricular changes that accompanied the Grinnell Science Project.

“One of the most significant measures of success is that components of the Grinnell Science Project are now mainstream throughout our science curriculum,” says Swartz. Grinnell’s introductory biology course, which is required for all biology and biological chemistry majors is project-based. Introductory computer science courses are designed similarly, and mathematics, chemistry, physics, and psychology courses use a number of active learning techniques.

In the three years before GSP began, an average of 42 women and eight students of color graduated with science degrees each year. By 2008, each number had more than doubled. Ninety women and 21 students of color graduated with science degrees that year. Hundreds of students have participated in GSP, and thousands more benefited from curricular changes and mentoring relationships established by the program.

Lizzie Eason ’17 is from Lamoni, Iowa and has not yet declared a major.

2014 GSP students, faculty, and staff

2014 Grinnell Science Project

Differences Foster Friendship

Christine Ajinjeru ’14 traveled nearly 8,000 miles to get to Grinnell College. Sarah Burnell ’14 went less than 8 blocks. Despite their differences—cultural, geographic, and otherwise—or perhaps because of them, the two Academic All-American track stars have become best friends.

Christine Ajinjeru ’14

Choosing Grinnell

One thing they did have in common was that neither of them thought they would go to Grinnell — Ajinjeru because she’d never heard of it and Burnell because it was too close to home.

Ajinjeru thought that since much of her education had been in the British system, she might go to a commonwealth school. After speaking to a representative of Grinnell who visited her school and talking with current Grinnell students also from Uganda, she made up her mind without even visiting.

For Burnell, though, the visit made the difference, even though it was a very short trip. “I just felt the connection at Grinnell. I sensed community here,” Burnell says.

Running Track

They didn’t come to track in the same way either. Burnell had been running since high school, both track and cross country. Ajinjeru didn’t try track until she got to Grinnell. Both were on the 4x400 team, and both went to nationals — Burnell for the 1,500 meter run and Ajinjeru for the 400. Both were named to the Academic All-America list. They would share a hotel room during away track meets, and watching an episode or two of Say Yes to the Dress became a regular pre-meet ritual.

They grew closest during their senior year through track events. “We went to nationals together, a huge thing. You are sharing your dreams,” Burnell says.

Both women believe that their differences deepened their friendship. “In my opinion, coming from different parts of the world drew us closer since we each had an opinion or view that was different. But when we talked, we each realized how valuable the other person's opinion was,” Ajinjeru says.

Sarah Burnell ’14

Post-Grinnell

After graduation, there’s always a fear of losing touch with your college friends. But with a friendship forged in competition, it’s going to take a lot more than distance to separate these two.

Burnell is staying in Grinnell for now. She works for the College as the coordinator of commencement and conferences.

Ajinjeru is entering a joint Ph.D. program in energy science and engineering at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She plans to take her knowledge and experience back to Uganda, where she will focus on sustainable energy and potentially setting up extracurricular programs that encourage creativity and innovation among students.

Christine Ajinjeru ’14 is a chemistry major from Kampala, Uganda.
Sarah Burnell ’14 is an anthropology major from Grinnell, Iowa.

 

 

 

Exploding the Binary

Tweeting, the Inez Louise Henely 1914 Best in Show-winner at the 2014 Bachelor of Arts Exhibition (BAX), is a series of 14 pieces of handmade paper with watermarks of text from Twitter.

The artist, Delia Salomon ’14, explains what led her to create this work. “When I learned how to make paper in Chemistry of Artistic Materials, I was fascinated by how it was originally a hand-made process.” The juxtaposition between the instantaneous nature of modern social media and the lengthy, laborious process of papermaking struck her.

Although Salomon is a prize-winning artist, her major is based in the Noyce Science Center rather than the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. Her parents’ artistic natures rubbed off on her, but in the academic world she was drawn to science. That’s not to say that she necessarily sees art and science as a binary with a gulf in between. After she came to Grinnell and started studying both more, she realized that “the artistic process and the scientific process are pretty similar, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that.”

“Developing both an artistic and a scientific way of thought has helped me immensely. Even in a science class, my experience with art — making art — reminds me that there are other people out there, which is easy to forget when you’re doing science,” Salomon says.

Grinnell provides a climate that encourages students to stretch, whether that means participating in sports, playing music, or taking a class in an unfamiliar discipline.

Salomon sees art as a practice and a mode of thought that connects her with the rest of the world. “My professors always say ‘art doesn’t exist alone.’” Art helps Salomon appreciate and understand why she pursues science. Both the scientific and artistic perspectives are useful in gaining perspective on the world. “Art and science used to be very closely tied — the study of anatomy, for example,” she says. “Each uses different tools, but both demonstrate a desire to understand the world around us.”

During her semester abroad in Valparaiso, Chile, Salomon found that not all colleges support work in multiple disciplines the same way Grinnell does. An art professor in Chile asked Salomon what her major was, and when she said it was biology, he laughed. Salomon said that she gained a great deal from the experience of studying abroad, but it also gave her an increased appreciation for how supportive Grinnell’s professors are. She is especially grateful to professors Jeremy Chen and Lee Running. Both encouraged her in her artistic pursuits and pushed her when she was hesitant to submit an entry for BAX.

Looking to the future, Salomon plans to serve in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, with a placement in San Francisco. She intends to use her free time to train to swim the English Channel, a feat she first attempted at the age of 16.

BAX is an annual professional exhibition of mature student works in the creative arts, including visual and performing arts. It is held towards the end of each academic year in Faulconer Gallery.   

Tweeting by Delia Salomon '14, Grinnell College's best in show BAX winner 2014

After Science, There’s Laundry

Judith Klinman

Judith Klinman, professor of the graduate school and chancellor’s professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is presenting two lectures on Wednesday, Nov. 20:

Scholars’ Convocation:  noon in Rosenfield Center Room 101.

Chemistry Lecture: 4:15 p.m. in Noyce 2022.

Both events are free and open to the public.

In her convocation lecture, Klinman will describe “a personal and scientific odyssey,” exploring her family background and how enzymes work generally. She will also talk about women in academics and science, and how women can balance bread, family relationships, and research.  Although her focus will be mainly on women in academics and science, says Elizabeth Trimmer, associate professor of chemistry, “I hope that men would also be interested in attending.”

In her second lecture, Klinman will discuss her research into enzymes that use copper to catalyze their reactions, including one that catalyzes the conversion of dopamine to norepinephrine, a very important reaction in neurotransmitter biosynthesis. 

A chemistry professor of the Graduate School Division of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Klinman studies proteins and enzymes, looking for the fundamental properties that underlie reactions in the human body. Her current research in enzyme catalysis with her research group focuses on hydrogen tunneling, methyl transfer, and protein dynamics, protein- and peptide-derived cofactors, and oxygen activation.

In 1978, Klinman became the first woman professor in the chemistry department of the University of California, Berkeley. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and is the former president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Klinman is 2013 Danforth Lecturer at Grinnell. The Danforth lectureship was established in honor of Professor Joe Danforth, who taught chemistry at Grinnell from 1947 to 1979.Traditionally, the Danforth lecturer has given two presentations, a departmental talk and a general interest lecture. The speaker also interacts significantly with our biological chemistry and chemistry majors.

Instrumentation

Instrumentation

Chromatography

  • 4 Gas Chromatographs, Capillary HP5890 SERIES II
  • Gas Chromatograph, Thermo Trace Ultra w/mass spec detector
  • Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatograph, Waters Acquity with mass spec detector
  • High Performance Liquid Chromatograph, HP1090 with DA detector
  • 4 BioLogic LP low-pressure chromatography systems

Mass Spectrometry

  • GC-MS Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer, Thermo ITQ with Trace Ultra GC
  • Ion Trap with Electrospray Ionization, Finnigan LCQ