Dear IU Chemistry Colleagues, Alumni, and Friends,
Welcome to the Fall 2021 issue of the Association of Indiana University Chemists Alumni Journal. The last time I wrote this welcome letter, the Department of Chemistry, the College, and campus were still adapting to the challenges of remote and hybrid instruction modalities, conducting research in shifts to maintain social distancing, and wondering when a vaccine would be available. The landscape continues to evolve, and we have continued to adapt. Despite some bumps in the road along the way, I do believe we are feeling very much on top of things!
This fall, with the vaccine mandate in place, we have returned to primarily in-person instruction, and labs have returned to near-pre-pandemic levels of productivity. This is not to say that the seismic upheaval we underwent last year is completely in the rear-view mirror. Masks are still required inside campus buildings, which is in line with the Monroe County mask mandate. Many of our meetings are still being held by Zoom, and our seminars have often been delivered using a hybrid platform. There are certain advantages to our new-found dexterity with online tools: Hybrid seminars give family and former advisors the opportunity to join fifth semester seminars and thesis exit seminars, both of which are special milestone events in our students’ lives at IU.
Department business rolls on pandemic or no pandemic, as usual! In the past year, we celebrated the well-deserved promotions of several of our colleagues. As some of you may know, IU recently established the rank of Teaching Professor, the highest and most distinguished rank that can be achieved by our teaching faculty. Promotion to this rank recognizes a deep and broad impact on pedagogy beyond the home department of the faculty member. Dr. Jill Robinson was promoted to Teaching Professor, setting a very high bar for IU. In addition, Prof. Kevin Brown, Prof. Silas Cook, and Prof. Liang-shi Li were promoted to the rank of full professor. Prof. Martin Jarrold joined the ranks of IU’s Distinguished Professoriate. Congratulations to all!
It will come as no surprise that our excellent faculty have continued to be recognized with honors and awards at all levels. Prof. and Associate Dean for Natural and Mathematical Sciences Nicola Pohl and Prof. Sara Skrabalak were both named as AAAS Fellows and Prof. Michael VanNieuwenhze was named a Fellow of the Royal Society for Chemistry this past year. Prof. Skrabalak was also awarded the ACS Crano Memorial Lectureship. Prof. Lane Baker received the 2021 ACS Analytical Award in Electrochemistry. Our faculty also continue to be recognized for their commitment to the teaching mission. Dr. Cate Reck was honored with the Morely Teaching Award for lifetime achievement, and Profs. Ken Caulton and David Giedroc were awarded the Trustees Teaching award for tenure track faculty. Our talented and dedicated Lecturer Kim Arnold was awarded the Trustees Teaching award for non-tenure track faculty. To learn more about the research that has been highlighted, the accomplishments of some of our outstanding students and alumni, entrepreneurial activities stemming from research in the department, and other exciting news, please keep an eye on our news pages.
Retirements are a bittersweet occasion, but they give us the occasion to reflect back on a career of excellence. Distinguished Professor Ken Caulton brought his era of teaching to a close at the end of the 2020/2021 academic year and will officially retire at the end of this December. Dr. Lyuda Bronstein, research advisor of numerous talented undergraduates, retired in July of 2021. The Department’s first in-person gathering in the time of COVID, held in the Dennis G. Peters Memorial Courtyard, was in honor of Ken and Lyuda, and their incalculable contributions to the research and teaching missions of the Department of Chemistry. In addition, Senior Scientist Dr. Helena Soini retired at the end of 2020 after many years of productive research with the Novotny group. Valued EIS staff member, John Poehlman retired in September 2021. Best wishes to all!
As just noted, our first in-person departmental event was an outside gathering in honor of Prof. Caulton and Dr. Bronstein. During fair weather, we have been taking advantage of our beautiful courtyard newly named in honor of the late Prof. Dennis G. Peters. The Peters Memorial Courtyard was also the location of our outdoor Science Day activities, which had been cancelled in 2020. It is certainly refreshing having our activities in-person (with precautions) once again. Indeed, this year’s PINDU event was successfully held in person and hosted by IU, organized by graduate student Sheyda Partovi.
As has been the experience nation-wide, we have had pretty significant turnover in staff this past year. However, we have been steadily rebuilding. Ashley Mills stepped into the critical position of Director of Business/Fiscal Officer this past year. She had previously been serving as Chemistry’s Assistant Director of Business. After months of tirelessly fulfilling the duties of both positions, we brought on board Mauricio (Moe) Pazos as the Assistant Director of Business. Jewel Bezy joined the team as a financial analyst. Nicole Johnson took up the position in receiving after the retirement of Rick Hackler, and Cameron Kincaid joined the team as the seminar coordinator. Last but certainly not least, Chad Schaeffer has stepped in as our new intrepid and much needed Building Manager. Welcome to all!
This past two years has highlighted how significantly things can change year after year. With the exciting opportunity to conduct faculty searches this year after last year’s hiring freeze, we still grapple with challenges in innovative ways. Assistant Chair Jonathan Karty penned an article on summer research pods we offered this past year, which gave undergraduates an opportunity to engage in meaningful research without undermining efforts to maintain social distancing in our research laboratories.
A poignant and very sad change: The IU Chemistry community lost a giant this past year. Professor Emeritus V.J. Shiner, twice chair of the department and former dean of the college, passed away on May 26, 2021. For anyone who did not know Prof. Shiner and his central role in the unprecedented growth in the Department of Chemistry in the latter half of the 20th century, I hope you will take the time to read the article prepared by Dr. Karty with the help of Professors Emeriti Jack Crandall and Joe Gajewski. In addition, ChemITG has edited up what was an uncut interview from 2006, which can be accessed from the article.
Accompanying the stories on the late Prof. Shiner and our efforts to provide research opportunities for undergraduates during COVID, this issue of the Alumni Journal highlights an alumnus who turned a nuisance fruit into a thriving business (a variation on making lemonade from lemons), and an interview with an outstanding, award-winning graduate student, a list of our graduate and undergraduate fellowship recipients, and more details on our new members of staff. I would like to give a well-deserved shout-out to Dr. Jon Karty for his work on the Alumni Journal, as well as ChemITG for their support of the online platform!
While the Chemistry Department is heading into calmer waters after the tumult of the last year and a half, we are still grappling with very deep budget cuts in response to the pandemic, significant turnover in the upper administration, and uncertainty about funding from the university, state, and federal agencies. However, one thing that has been certain is the support from YOU. Because of you, our undergraduate program remains among the strongest in the College, our graduate program is thriving, and our excellent faculty can continue at the highest level of excellence in research. We are profoundly grateful.
In an effort to express our gratitude in more concrete terms, we have initiated an Outstanding Alumni Award. We are now accepting nominations– Please send nominations with a brief explanation to firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to honor our alumni in all stages of their careers. In addition, the department is moving to establish an External Advisory Board. We hope to attract members from both our Alumni and from companies that recruit our students, to help advise us on research and educational directions. Again, any nominations and requests for more information can be sent to email@example.com.
Finally, please stay tuned for more information on the Celebration of Life for Dennis G. Peters, which will be held April 29-30, 2022, assuming it is safe to do so.
Thank you, again, for your enduring support. I hope you enjoy the stories in this online journal.
Caroline Chick Jarrold
Chair, Department of Chemistry
Herman B Wells Endowed Professor