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Chemistry and Brandeis: hitting the double bonus

By Jeremy Heyman

Section: Arts

February 10, 2006

Like all writers, I face a certain challenge as I sit to write. First, welcome to my first-ever column in The Hoot, and my first-ever column in, well, anything. Thanks to the Opinions editor and the rest of The Hoot for this opportunity.
Oh, and in case you were wondering about the article title, I was watching college basketball tonight.

As with my previous article, I have two very different topics in my head as subjects for this column. And as with the last article, one topic was controversial. The other? You guessed itChemistry. Come on, my roommate made me a sign on our door that includes the description, Chemistry Fanatic/Lunatic. Seriously. That tidbit aside, this article will take the opposite route of my last article. Yes, this weeks will be Chemistry-related. I know youre excited, but please hold all applause until the conclusion of the article.

My inspiration this week comes from the Jan. 30 Chemical & Engineering News. Naturally, I forgot my copy in the mailroom on Friday and had to sift through the huge recycling bins tonight to recover it. After finding a couple Hoot-worthy snippets in it, however, it became clear that my garbage-picking incident was justifiable. Just nine pages apart, one Brandeis Chemistry professor was quoted, and another profs former PhD advisor was featured for a national award in Chemical Education.

I was bothered recently when I was chatting with a couple of post-doctoral science fellows here at Brandeis. Both are incredibly intelligent and very dedicated to science. While this may seem insignificant, I was troubled by their ignorance of Brandeis academic reputation. We do not exactly rival the school spirit of an Ohio State or a Maryland, but I am proud of this unique university that I attend. Naturally, in Pittsburgh many people have never heard of this place, but it upsets me that there are people who work here who do not know that this is, um, a pretty darn good school. Numbers do not tell all, but man, just look at the sickeningly amazing MCAT scores that Brandeisians crank out! If youre a premed, or a friend of a premed, you probably know that scores in the mid and high 30s arent all that common. Even less common is a perfect 15 on one of the sections. But such is the quality of some of the students here.

Onto the Jan. 30 C&EN. In the weekly Science and Technology briefs (page 36), there appears a section on carbon-fluorine bond activation being linked to carbon-hydrogen bond formation as part of a reaction step forming a carbon-carbon bond (see, that Organic Chemistry really is coming to good use). The class of molecules involved, the fluorenes, are useful in such applications as electronics and pharmaceuticals. Within the blurb a carbon-fluorine chemistry specialist is quoted. This is a pretty cool reaction. This chemistry goes beyond what anyone else has been able to accomplish in that C-F activation is coupled with C-H activation in a C-C bond-forming step. The authority? Dr. Oleg V. Ozerov, an inorganic chemist in our very own Chemistry Department. Not bad press for the young Assistant Professor and the Department at large.

I do not personally know Professor Ozerov, but I have heard rave reviews from my major advisor, Professor Foxman. Professor Foxman, the Inorganic veteran and the advisor of nearly every Brandeis Chem major, has had some pretty fine colleagues in his time. About four decades ago, he headed to MIT for graduate school, where his PhD advisor (and co-author of five publications) would be a young crystallographer named F. Albert Cotton. Fast forward to the present and to page 45 of this issue of C&EN. Professor Cotton, now of Texas A&M, is this years winner of the national Pimentel Award in Chemical Education. Professor Foxman was one of Cottons earlier advisees (he has advised over 110 PhD recipients) and co-authors (Cotton has published upward of 1500 papers). Foxman, one of Brandeiss most beloved Chemistry professors, credits Cotton as the consummate mentor, educator and friend. He adds, I still try to emulate that model each time I walk into a classroom or an away-seminar.

Not bad press for the sciences here at a school most people, and scientists, have never heard of, eh?

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