Dr. Geri Richmond, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oregon, presented the annual Tourtellotte Lecture last Tuesday at Kalamazoo College on the topic “Surf, Sink, or Swim: Understanding Environmentally Important Processes at Water Surfaces” and spent the day on campus speaking about her career and work abroad.
“It’s our sense that all of our speakers for the Tourtellotte Lecture are on the short list for Nobel Prizes in Chemistry,” said Dr. Greg Slough, Professor of Chemistry.
Richmond, a U.S. Science Envoy, Secretary to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the 2016 National Medal of Science Recipient, directs Richmond Labs at the University of Oregon, where her research team executes many experimental tests and theoretical computations in relation to water surface tension.
As water surfaces are entryways for atmospheric pollutants, Richmond’s research is highly applicable to environmental issues such as oil spills and acid rain.
Additionally, Richmond’s team has discovered that water molecules in the air attract sulfur dioxide molecules, which begins the formation of sulfuric acid, or acid rain clouds.
“Richmond was selected by a student committee based off of student interest in the Chemistry department last year,” said Slough, who acted as the faculty assistant to the Tourtellotte Lectureship committee.
“The students wrote and delivered the citation for the lectureship—all the steps in the process were student activities. This is how we’re so successful in getting top-tier scientists here—it all comes from the students themselves,” Slough said.
Another of Richmond’s talks titled “Quilting…” compared the process of patchwork quilting to that of a career path in the sciences.
“Along the way there are parts of the quilting process that are not very attractive. You can’t see the bigger pattern that’s going to emerge. Finally, it all gets sewn together and you get this amazing pattern,” Slough said.
The Tourtellotte Lecture was supported by the Dr. Dee and Helen Tourtellotte Lectureship Fund in the Basic Sciences, which began in 1981 and is shared between the Chemistry, Biology, and Physics departments.
“It’s about interacting with really famous scientists, really getting into their heads, and showing that they’re real people with real lives,” Slough said.