Beth R. J. Abdella
Ph.D., Associate Professor
1986 to present
I have now been teaching at St. Olaf for over half of my lifetime. The aspect of my job that I love most, in a big-picture way, is that no two days are ever the same. Even when the task on the “To Do” list reads the same as the task on another day (To Do: prepare for tomorrow’s class) the details are very different. What is the course material for that day? How can I best organize it for my students? Is there a demonstration that will be helpful? Is there an applet or visualization tool available to help students understand? What sample exercise is best suited for the students to pursue either in class or after class? The task of preparing for class, like any other task on my list, is challenging, intellectually stimulating, and bears great rewards when done well.
The aspect of my job that I love most, in a day-to-day sort of way, is interacting with my students. Getting to know these young people, seeing them struggle with, and then master a new idea, talking about their goals and their pasts...this is the most compelling part of my job. Seeing students progress through four years of college is a joy. The personal and intellectual growth evident in these young adults is astounding.
The variety in my working life extends way beyond the classroom. The chemistry department is a mini-institution within the greater College and takes substantial effort to keep running smoothly. I write and edit laboratory exercises and general chemistry textbook chapters. Colleagues and I spend considerable energy analyzing our successes and failures, planning for the future, and disseminating our work to the larger community. I have held the position of Associate Chair of Curriculum within the Chemistry Department. In this regard, I have worked on departmental web pages, departmental news letters, departmental catalog copy and all sorts of minutia associated with getting students registered for appropriate courses.
But, of course, life does not revolve only around one’s work. I especially enjoy the summer season when golf and gardens occupy substantial portions of time. I am an avid sports fan on the professional, college, and high school levels. I swim laps in the Skoglund pool to get a little exercise myself.
Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor
Robert M. Hanson
Edolph A. Larson and Truman E. Anderson, Sr. Chair of ChemistryOrganic chemistry, stereoselectivity in organic syntheses
1986 to present
A St. Olaf I have the privilege of working with a fantastic community of students and staff who love to learn about the world around them. The guiding principles involved in my work combine passion for the environment and for teaching with a call to serve others and the earth. As a fellow learner with students we explore the complexities of sustainability and stewardship in the chemistry profession, on the St. Olaf campus and throughout the world. My curiosity about emerging environmental contaminants in surface waters and the ability to measure these materials establish projects of local relevance that remind us of our global connectivity. In a nutshell I enjoy exploring the intersection of science, communities, ethics and communication. The discovery of learning how we learn and transferring our learned ideals into action bring excitement to my daily life. I look forward to engaging current and future students and colleagues in a quest to understand how examining the consequences of our action or inaction at the molecular level serves to care for our world of precious resources. Perhaps our paths will cross in courses, such as, introductory chemistry, integrated chemistry/biology, analytical chemistry, introduction to environmental studies or thematic topics courses. Others may see me leading an off-campus study course like “Environmental Science in Australia.” Still others may witness this scientist in community theater, remodeling his home, or enjoying the company of a spouse and two fabulous Boston Terriers. In whatever the context, let us go forth and learn from one another while having great fun.
Ph.D., Assistant Professor
2011 to present
Ph.D., Assistant Professor
Molecular Cell Biology
2009 to present
As a member of both the chemistry and biology departments at St. Olaf, I have the opportunity to interact with a large population of talented students with diverse interests. I teach introductory students in the Chemistry/Biology Integrated Sequence and advanced students in Biochemistry and Experimental Biochemistry. With each course, we practice asking questions as well as seeking answers. Assignments are designed to encourage clear and confident communication of ideas and we spend significant class time working and discussing problems.
My research aims to understand cellular mechanisms of fat storage. As the incidence of obesity continues to grow worldwide, an understanding of fat storage becomes even more critical. We seek to understand how fat is stored in cells, how cells access stored fat, and whether these mechanisms are conserved across different cell types. Students in my laboratory utilize standard techniques in cell biology and biochemistry to pursue these questions, including cell culture, electrophoresis, subcellular fractionations, immunohistochemistry, and microscopy.
I am also passionate about encouraging an interest and appreciation for science outside the college campus. I will seek opportunities for my students and myself to promote scientific literacy in the greater Northfield community.
Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor
Gary L. Miessler
Inorganic chemistry, photochemistry of transition metal complexes
1978 to present
What I enjoy most about being at St. Olaf is my students: the opportunity to welcome them to college in the fall, to get to know them in my teaching and advising, and to assist them as they look to their future lives and careers. I try to take a personal interest in my students, and I want them to feel welcome to see me if I can be of help. In my teaching I like to incorporate examples from current developments in science to supplement what is in the textbooks, for example to have my first year students learn how to conduct electronic literature searches and to find data on greenhouse gases and make projections of what future concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere might be. In my Organometallic Chemistry (Chem 252) and Advanced Inorganic Chemistry (Chem 386) classes students read research papers from the current chemistry literature and use these as background for writing papers on a variety of interesting topics, for example nanotubes, buckyballs, quantum dots, and molecules with potential medical uses. Also, I enjoy symmetry and incorporate many applications of symmetry to chemistry in the upper level classes that I teach.
My research focuses on making new compounds that contain molybdenum and tungsten (and sometimes other metals) and sulfur-containing ligands. Nearly all of the laboratory work is done by St. Olaf undergraduates. Here are two examples of new compounds that they have synthesized in the past several years:
Undergraduates conduct this research in the “red light” lab in the Chemistry Department (red is used because some chemicals used in this work are photosensitive and would be decomposed by ordinary lighting), use a variety of instrumental methods to gather data, and perform their reactions using Schlenk techniques and vacuum lines, involving specialized glassware to avoid contamination by air.
In addition, I have worked with St. Olaf colleagues on several textbooks. Gary Spessard and I have nearly completed the second edition of Organometallic Chemistry, scheduled to be published in September 2009. I am also working on the fourth edition of Inorganic Chemistry, to carry on the work conducted with my late colleague Don Tarr for nearly two decades. Finally, Beth Abdella and I have written the text that we have used in teaching Chem 125 for many years. I have been fortunate to have opportunities to work closely with many colleagues, both within and beyond the Chemistry Department, on a variety of projects and committees, and this has added a valuable dimension to my experience as a faculty member.
I am blessed to have a wonderful family, including two daughters who will be starting college this fall, one who will be a third generation Ole. In addition to family activities, I enjoy following Minnesota Twins baseball, reading, and listening to music of the big band era.
During my time at St. Olaf I have been fortunate to teach a variety
of classes. Recently I have been teaching a non-majors course
(Chem 111, Chemistry and the World) and two courses in biochemistry
primarily as electives for juniors and seniors (Chem 379 and
385). One of my goals in all of my courses is to engage students
in activities that challenge their critical thinking skills. The
activities I choose may take the form of working through
non-disciplinary logic puzzles (I love a good puzzle) or scouring the
primary literature to decipher a curious aspect of a biochemical
pathway. I try, in all of my courses, to bring enthusiasm, humor
and a genuine love of the subject material. Yes, the rumor is
true, I do sing to my class a song about glucose oxidation.
My research program continues to evolve as new projects and
opportunities present themselves. I consider myself a
specialist in "materials and methods" section of grants and papers; I
take pride in guiding students through a range of techniques from the
synthesis of small organic molecules for biochemical studies to
large-scale production of RNA for biophysical studies. My
compilation of biochemistry lab methods continues to grow and I make a
conscious effort to revise written procedures to make them approachable
and understandable to both experienced researchers and novices. I
love to work in the lab and try to maintain a hands-on approach in both
the research and teaching labs.
I take great pride in my service to both the chemistry department
and the college wide community. I particularly like the
opportunity to work with colleagues from across campus representing
different approaches to making the college a better place to learn and
What keeps me in balance is spending time with my family; puttering
in the garden, fly fishing, golf and playing vintage baseball.
Academic Administrative Assistant
Chemistry Office Manager and Health Professions Assistant
1998 to present
I began my career at St. Olaf on June 6, 1992, working in the Human Resource Office. In the summer of 1998 I accepted the position of Academic Administrative Assistant for the Chemistry Depatment. My journey has been exciting and sometimes exhausting. We moved into our new space Regents Hall of Natural Sciences the summer of 2008. This has been a great opportunity for students to experience a space that offers so much in regards to science and study.
In my free time I love spending time with my family, fishing, cooking and keeping up with my eight grandchildren.
William P. Roberts
Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor
2007 to present
My primary teaching duties at St. Olaf include the “sophomore” organic course, advanced organic courses and the corresponding laboratory periods. I have also enjoyed teaching the lab sections of our general chemistry courses. My research interests include organic synthesis, synthetic methodology and compound characterization. When I am not on campus I am home chasing my two boys and baby girl around. I also enjoy waterskiing, wakesurfing, hunting and fishing.
Jodie R. Schmelz
Ph.D., Associate Professor
Physical chemistry 2002 to present
As one of the resident physical chemists, my teaching includes second-semester first-year chemistry (Chem 126) and physical chemistry (Chem 371). I have also been fortunate enough to teach biophysical chemistry (Chem 391) in the spring during even-numbered years to a small group of juniors and seniors. A real treat for me is observing how my Chem 126 students have matured scientifically by the time they reach physical chemistry.
I am less concerned with what my physical chemistry students recall from earlier chemistry courses (that is why we keep our old textbooks, right?) as I am with how their problem solving and critical thinking skills have been challenged and shaped during their time at St. Olaf College. Removing student trepidation in physical chemistry is a worthwhile challenge, whether through demonstrations, relevant applications, or just injecting a little humor in the subject. I am after all just a big kid that happens to have a really cool chemistry set! I take extreme pride involving students in my research interests and immense satisfaction working with them in the laboratory. My students and I work together to investigate the role naturally-occurring organic molecules have on the hydration and stability of nucleic acids. Students working with me learn a variety of techniques to thermodynamically characterize nucleic acids in aqueous solutions. To compliment our experimental techniques, we rely on molecular dynamics simulations to provide a molecular interpretation of our experimental work. Because my research project is an interdisciplinary endeavor, I draw student researchers from chemistry, biology, and physics. My research involves other faculty in chemistry as well. Students who work with me form a cadre of students at St. Olaf College that are trained to address nucleic acid and protein folding with a quantitative, biophysical mindset.
My service in the Chemistry Department and to the College has allowed me to forge friendships with faculty in disciplines other than science and mathematics. Our work together has allowed us to make St. Olaf an exciting place for students to learn and faculty to work.
My free time is spent with my family. I coach my daughter and son’s
athletic teams and spend time with my two kids learning martial arts.
We all enjoy time outdoors playing ball, fishing, and building snow and
Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Variety is the spice of life. I bring this attitude to my
professional work as well as my personal life. I enjoy teaching
students at all levels, exploring different kinds of research questions
and furthering the efforts of the College through different service
opportunities. I have found these three traditional areas of
faculty life synergistic and interrelated. My teaching is
directly related to my scholarly work and many of the broader service
experiences I’ve had also relate to teaching and research. The
overlap spanning these three areas has been both invigorating and
rewarding and I enjoy the synergy they create.
In recent years my teaching has been focused on Analytical Chemistry
and chemistry courses for general education. In the classroom, I
enjoy guiding my students as they learn actively. My class
sessions are a mixture of group or student-centered activities and
interactive lecture. My approach to teaching general education
chemistry courses is to engage students in developing scientific
literacy skills through current topics, such as swine flu. In
Analytical Chemistry, I employ the role-playing approach developed by
my emeritus colleague John Walters and use Process Oriented Guided
Inquiry (POGIL) activities as the basis for much of our in-class
My research is in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. My central inquiry question is Are students are learning what I think I am teaching?
I have explored this question both in my general education courses and
in my courses for chemistry majors. I am participating in the
ANA-POGIL project, a NSF funded project developing and testing POGIL
activities for teaching Analytical Chemistry.
In May 2009 I completed my service as department chair, which I have held eight of the last ten years. I am looking forward to spending more time in the classroom and restoring my attention span to ordinary levels. I will continue to be involved in service activities, primarily through my work on the Assessment Subcommittee of the Curriculum Committee, a role I began during my time as Interim Director of Evaluation & Assessment.