Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A passion for science

Glenn T. Seaborg was the father of heavy element chemistry. It is interesting how we was so driven by a passion for science and for educating the next generation. Even though he had a Nobel Prize (1951) and had been Chair of the Atomic Energy Commission (equivalent to Secretary of the Department of Energy today) in 1971 he returned to Berkeley to teach and to lead a research group.

In the National Academy Biographical Memoir by Darleane C. Hoffmann, who was his successor at Berkeley, says:
I learned so many things from him just by observing how he ran the weekly brown bag lunches with his graduate students and later mine--listening with great interest as they described their research progress. He asked insightful and penetrating questions, but not in a threatening manner, made suggestions, and frequently went to visit the labs late in the day to see what was going on. He also hosted many undergraduate research students. He was devoted to education and student training and would prepare as carefully for lectures to freshman chemistry classes as for presentations to prestigious assemblages of scientists.
This post was stimulated by a dinner discussion yesterday with a former group member who said something very similar. In particular, Seaborg was a stickler for keeping appointments with students. He would excuse himself from meetings with "big shots" to meet with students.

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