Two days ago a group of Reed faculty got together to discuss how we could do more to help our students succeed after graduation. A widely shared concern was the “Graduate School or Bust!” mentality that seems to dominate student thinking. A few hours later I found myself chatting with Jeremy Waen ’06, the chemistry department’s invited seminar speaker. As Jeremy sketched his story for me, and then expanded on it later during his seminar (“From Thinking Small to Acting Big: One Reedie’s Atypical Career Path in an Era of Climate Change and Trumped-Up Politics”), I experienced first-hand the student dilemma that my colleagues had been talking about.
The cover article for the March 2016 issue of Reed magazine carries the title, Patterns of Power, which alludes to the relationship between fashion and society. I would also encourage readers to check out What is a Successful College Education? There are, naturally, as many answers to this question as there are days in the lives of our students, but here’s something that has been on my mind: We are living in a world blanketed by information and misinformation. “Facts” are being shot at us from all directions, 24 hours every day, 7 days a week. The traditional roles of experts and reporters as the producers and conduits of “facts” are being challenged more and more, not just by interest groups trying to advance a particular agenda, but also by the ways we, the consumers of information, operate, that is, we increasingly rely on methods for information sharing that bypass the authentication that traditional information channels once afforded. In this “fact-filled” climate, a college education, it seems to me, must not only teach students how to think critically about the quality of the information they will receive, it must also teach them to appreciate the subconscious ways in which facts influence human thought. We are not the rational creatures we believe ourselves to be.
Sculpting the City, the December 2015 issue of Reed magazine, is an eclectic affair covering topics as diverse as intellectuals working for the CIA, the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683, muckraking journalism, the design of urban spaces (cover story, p. 24), and still more.
Perhaps the most striking essay in all this is a “letter from the editor,” Chris Lydgate ’90, titled Return on Investment. In just eight paragraphs Lydgate describes the life story of one of Reed’s most accomplished graduates and comments on the recent trend to monetize the value of every experience. The graduate in question was the late Ken Koe ’45, whose life spanned Depression-era poverty in Astoria and on Portland’s west side, and the highest level of medicinal chemistry as a co-inventor of the antidepressant Zoloft (see In Memoriam: The Architect of Zoloft below). Koe was able to escape his humble beginnings when Reed awarded him a full scholarship ($250) on the eve of his high school graduation. Koe described his Reed education as an “exhilarating intellectual journey,” but, even with a full scholarship, it was a challenging one: to make Reed’s financial gift stretch as far as possible, Koe arranged his schedule so that he could graduate in just three years, even while commuting across the Willamette each day, and working weekends in a Chinatown restaurant. To be sure, Koe hoped that his Reed degree would lead to a better life, but what that might look like, no one could say. Lydgate offers this comment,“We hear a lot of questions these days about the ‘return on investment’ of a college degree, typically framed in terms of your earning power five or 10 years after graduation. It’s a useful, important discussion. But to my mind, this definition of ‘return’ is far too narrow. The point of getting an education at a place like Reed is not to fatten your wallet but to sharpen your mind and prepare yourself for the intellectual challenges that lie ahead.”
The search for alumni news continued in The Art of the Conference in the September issue of the Reed magazine. Conferences have held a time-honored place in chemistry courses for at least 50 years, but the conduct of “conference” has always been malleable, embracing whatever tweaks seemed in the interest of students and subject matter at the time. Over the years, problem-solving, group work, and more, have all found places under the Conference Tent.
My first glimpse of a chemistry alum came with decidedly mixed feelings on p. 1 of the magazine, the Table of Contents. The Table was topped with pictures of the 12 members of the Class of 2015 being profiled in the What Is a Reedie Anyway? feature on p. 26. Smack in the middle, with his trademark tinted hair, off-kilter hat, and ever-present smile was a photo of the late Mark Angeles ’15. Sadly, Mark was taken away from us only a few days after his graduation when a truck struck him and his bicycle in a fatal collision. As I read the profile of Mark on p. 37, I was reminded of the wonderful things that Reedies accomplish during their four years at Reed. Mark’s life was filled with gusto and joy, and he shared his passion for living with an open heart. Mark’s family and friends have established a very fitting memorial: the Angeles Fellowship that will “support a SEEDS student intern, whose work on campus continues Mark’s legacy of volunteerism and commitment to physical engagement as a component of service.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve dipped into the Reed magazine for news about Reed chemists so it seems appropriate that the title of the summer 2015 issue was Rediscovering A Master, and the cover featured a photo of one of Reed’s master teachers, Prof. Sarah Wagner-McCoy [English 2011-].
“Reedies Unite to Honor Chemistry Prof” (p. 12), a feature article about the legacy of Prof. Maggie Geselbracht [1993-2014] could, perhaps, be squeezed into the ‘rediscovery’ category, but it would be a tight squeeze because it still feels like Maggie is working away … just a bit further down the hall than I can see. Maggie’s story has been told elsewhere, but it is still remarkable to recall that she was the first woman to earn tenure in the Reed chemistry department. One sign of the deep affection and respect that all of us held for Maggie was the establishment of the Maggie Geselbracht Women in Chemistry Fund. This fund, which was established by Maggie’s husband, Tom Armstrong, underwrites summer research for women chemistry students and provides money for traveling to conferences to present their research. The first honorees were Natalie Keehan ’15 and Eve Mozur ’15, both of whom attended the national ACS meeting in Denver. As of June 2015, the fund had received gifts from 139 donors and raised more than $140,000. Gifts can still be made to the fund at reed.edu/givingtoreed/profmaggie.
The Clinton Street Theatre near the Reed campus is currently offering Science on Tap, an evening lecture series that features an inviting beer-and-soft-chair approach to learning science. This past week’s celebrity scientist “on tap” was Reed’s newest biochemistry professor, Kelly Chacon (2015-), who spoke to a large crowd about metals in our bodies, the environment, and superbugs. As Kelly told Channel 2 (KATU), “This was an enormous challenge because what I want to do is not get lost in the weeds. I think a lot of time with scientists it’s really easy to get too bogged down by details, but I also want to be accurate.
Watch the video of Kelly and Science on Tap appearing on yesterday’s KATU 6 o’clock news. It wasn’t all biochemistry and heme proteins. There was beer, audience members having a good time, and even someone taking notes. (Insiders: watch carefully for the cameo appearance of Reed biology prof, Sarah Schaack at 2:02)
Dr. Chatterjee will be joining the Reed chemistry department later this month as a visiting assistant professor of chemistry. He did his undergraduate work in materials chemistry at the University of Kolkata in India before moving to the City University of New York to do his graduate work in physical biochemistry. He has extensive experience in spectroscopy and NMR, and has worked on a range of projects including DNA dynamics and NMR analysis of plant tissue. He’ll be teaching Chemistry 102 with Arthur Glasfeld this Spring, and then next year he’ll be replacing Kelly Chacón, who will be on sabbatical.
Prof. Jeffrey Kovac ’70 (Chemistry, U. Tennessee) is an internationally recognized scholar of ethics in chemistry. Earlier this fall the Swiss Academy of Sciences invited him to give the inaugural SCNAT Ethics Lecture on “What is an Ethical Chemist?” at 6 Swiss universities. A high-quality video was made of the lecture (45 min) and the discussion (45 min) that followed at ETH-Zurich, and the video can be viewed here (Creative Commons copyright). The text of the lecture will appear in the journal Chimia in January. Here is the abstract:
Almost all decisions made by chemists, and all other scientists, in their professional lives have an ethical dimension. In both the practice of chemistry and the education of students it is essential that chemists understand the moral complexity of real-world situations, apply the relevant moral standards, and have the moral courage to make difficult choices, or the foundation of trust essential to the scientific enterprise will erode. In this presentation I will develop the fundamental concepts of scientific ethics and show how they apply to both the practice of chemistry and the relationship between chemistry and society. I will consider both day-to-day ethical problems such as authorship and the treatment of data and larger questions such as the choice of research problems and the social responsibility of scientists.
It is always a treat to have our graduates return and tell us about the work they do. Alumni reports (and reports from current students about summer research projects) seem to have grown even more frequent over the last few years. Two cases in point: Dr. Lyndsey Earl ’07 (“Mining Uranium from the Sea: Polymer Sorbent Design and Synthesis,” Sept 15) and Dr. Daniel Gamelin ’09 (“Doped Semiconduct Quantum Dots: Experiments at a Frontier of Inorganic, Physical, and Materials Chemistries,” Sept 22) were the speakers at our last two weekly department seminars. Seminars are generally held in the biology lecture hall, Room 19 (downstairs), and start at 4:15.
This is also a chance for me to plug some of the new ways you can keep in touch with what is going on at Reed. Continue reading
Wikipedia: The protein product of the KRas gene performs an essential function in normal tissue signaling: it acts as a molecular on/off switch. In the ‘on’ position, KRas recruits and activates proteins necessary for the propagation of growth factor and other signaling pathways, however, the mutation of a KRas gene also happens to be an essential step in the development of many cancers.
C&EN (6 June 2016, cover story): “KRas, part of a family of proteins commonly mutated in cancer, is one of the most desirable drug targets in the pharmaceutical industry. It is also one of the most maddeningly difficult targets; after a long period of failures, many scientists simply stopped trying to develop drugs that block KRas.”
The C&EN cover story also describes how the first real break in the KRas story came in December 2011, when Dr. Ulf Peters, a postdoc in the Shokat lab at UC San Francisco, was able to determine an x-ray structure of a KRas-small molecule complex. Peters sent the coordinates to Shokat by email, but what he didn’t know was this: Shokat had been caught in an early winter Lake Tahoe snowstorm, and was stuck in his car at the bottom of a slick, steep hill. Continue reading