Good ChemistryGAMBIER, Ohio (October 29, 2012)
Solomon Reisberg '13 of Portland, Oregon, is a recipient of the Franklin Miller Jr. Award, which recognizes unusual or significant contributions to the academic environment. Solomon also received a Goldwater Scholarship and is pursuing an honors project in chemistry. He was interviewed by Joumana Khatib '13 of Upper Arlington, Ohio, who is a student writer in the Office of Public Affairs.
JK: What got you interested in chemistry at Kenyon?
SR: I came in thinking I would study mathematics, but I realized as soon as I took an Introduction to Chemistry lab on a whim that working with my hands as well as my brain is a really good thing. I think that chemistry has a unique appeal in that way. It's a lot of intellectual work but also a lot of challenging manual labor, such as the manipulation of matter. One of the great things about Kenyon's Chemistry Department is that you can get involved really early. I started working in Professor (Yutan) Getzler's research group in the fall of my first year
JK: What are your primary research interests?
SR: The research I'm doing right now is at the border of organic synthesis and polymer chemistry. I'm investigating the synthesis of biodegradable polymers-plastics that are made from renewable resources and can be composted. Obviously, the use of fossil-fuel based plastics in our society is a huge problem right now, so I think it's really important work. In the long term, I'm interested in chemistry as it applies to environmental sciences. I joke that I'm a liberal arts science kid, because this work is very much at the border of different regimes of chemistry and pulls from several sub-fields.
JK: How has the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship influenced your Kenyon experience?
SR: I was very startled to receive that award. I joke that it was the pinnacle of my career and everything is downhill from there. I was on track to graduate from Kenyon in three years, but because of that funding I've backed off to a typical schedule. Taking a lighter course load over a longer period of time has allowed me to focus more on research. The crazy thing about research is that it will fill any space you give it. There's always just another question: whatever results an experiment gives you will answer one question and open three others.
JK: What are your thoughts about the Franklin Miller award?
SR: I was very surprised to get it, because the past recipients I've spoken to have had very concrete impacts on campus. It's interesting to think about the way I've influenced campus. It's an award given for contribution to an intellectual environment, but what seems silly to me about that is that Kenyon is already an intellectual environment. One doesn't need to do something to inspire people to have highly-intellectual conversations, to be constantly intellectually engaged-that just happens naturally here.
JK: What makes studying the sciences different at Kenyon?
SR: I think the most undervalued thing in the sciences right now is communication ability. When people ask why I came to Kenyon, my answer is that I could've gotten a good science training anywhere. Getting a good science training with great writing skills, great oral skills, learning how to really argue a point-that sort of rhetorical training is very unique to Kenyon and is something people really underestimate the importance of. But, really, these sorts of communication pathways are important in any field.