Section: Letter to the Editor

Letter to the editors: On the chemical spill

Recently, the College was alerted to an event in the Village involving hazardous materials. We, with the rest of the College, are first and foremost relieved that everyone is safe.

The materials leading to the alert came from outside the College. The Department of Chemistry, in the person of Dudley Thomas, was involved in cleanup, saving the College the substantial cost of an outside crew. As noted elsewhere, the odiferous material was not phosphorus, as originally reported, but camphor. A large quantity of the former would be of greater concern, due to the high reactivity of this element in its common forms.

This is an opportune time to remind the community that chemistry is not just fun, but also a skilled trade. We in the department are here to share our knowledge and craft and we also have a professional obligation to encourage its responsible use.

A novice would not expect to master, without guidance, the aqueous extraction and protein denaturation needed to make tofu, or the homogenization of water and oils required for a traditional mayonnaise. The same is doubly true for non-culinary chemistry. All chemistry is best learned through hands-on experience in collaboration with skilled mentors.

We in the department provide this mentorship, and encourage students to pursue it. The accessibility of such opportunities has long been a hallmark not just of chemistry as a field, but of this college as a whole. In many of the most intriguing areas of chemistry, practicing with skilled mentors is required not only to minimize risk, but to maximize reward.

There are many educational and entertaining components of chemistry that do not fit under the framework of collaborative research or existing courses. In the past, the American Chemical Society student club has perfected demonstrations to share at local schools, during departmental gatherings, or other events. All we ask of those of you with an interest in chemistry is that you share your enthusiasm with us.

Chemistry has profound transformative power. It can heal and destroy. The materials that enable this power are contained in Tomsich Hall, the academic home of chemistry students, faculty and staff, past, present and future. The materials and facilities are inanimate, but they are purchased, delivered, stored, retrieved, inhabited and maintained by your fellow human beings.

The actual or perceived unsanctioned use of these materials outside of Tomsich can negatively impact us all. With the supervision and assistance we joyfully provide, chemistry can be safely pursued for the purposes of pedagogy, scholarship or outreach.

Kerry Rouhier, Simon Garcia, Shanon Hashman, Denny Wiegman, Dudley Thomas, Jamie Keller, Matt Rouhier, John Hofferberth, Yutan Getzler, Carolyn Waggoner, Mo Hunsen, Sheryl Hemkin, Vivian Ezeh and James Heironimus

Faculty and staff of the Department of Chemistry

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