Baruch College celebrates Marie Curie’s centennial

22 Nov



Marie Curie has long been regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of modern science. The Polish born physicist and chemist famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity was also the first person to be honored with two Nobel Prizes, in chemistry and physics.

In celebration of the 100-year anniversary of her Nobel Prize in chemistry, Edyta Greer  and David Gruber, professors of Natural Sciences at Baruch College, organized a symposium celebrating Curie’s achievements.

On Monday, Nov. 14, students, faculty and professionals alike gathered in the EngelmanRecital Hall at the Vertical Campus in anticipation for the landmark event. Gruber and Greer kicked off the event by thanking the cosponsors as well as keynote speaker Roald Hoffman

Before Hoffman could speak however, Vice Chancellor for Research at the City University of New York, Dr. Gillian Small, took the stage to sing the praises of Marie Curie. Small also took the time to elaborate on the “Decade of Science,” a new initiative being launched by CUNY in order to raise the level of science across the various campuses.

  “Curie was not only an excellent scientist but she opened the door for women everywhere and is a personal hero of mine” Small said.

Soon after, the room gasped in anticipation when renowned Cornell Professor Roald Hoffman grabbed center stage. The 1981 Nobel Prize winner, along with his mother are the only survivors from his immediate family during the Holocaust, an experience which strongly influenced his beliefs and work. 

Since that life changing experience, Hoffman’s career has moved from strength to strength culminating in the creation of the Extended Huckel method, which he developed with the assistance of associate Lawrence Lohr. Hoffman however remains a bit of an anomaly in chemistry enclaves as he also has a penchant for the arts.

He is an avid poet, who has been published in two collections, has attempted to bridge the mammoth chasm between the science wand literary world. This was the basis of his keynote speech.

The speech entitled “Chemistry’s Essential Tensions: Three Views of a Science” touched on the three views of chemistry in the outside world, and how it relates to the actual practice itself. Hoffman began with a personal tale chronicling his days as a child reading the diary of Marie Curie and how it inspired him immensely. Hoffman then described chemistry through what he described as the public perception.

“Chemistry is fundamentally about change and it always has been, it is science with a philosophy, science with a purpose.”

As the speech continued Hoffman garnered applause from the crowd with his subtle comical stylings with unique regard to chemistry issues. At one point the speaker even delved into the upcoming 2012 political campaign, highlighting the simplicity of some of the candidates as something rarely seen in chemistry to the crowds delight.

Hoffman finished by delving into art, explaining how certain colors only existed due to chemical experiments, further proof that chemistry cannot simply be boxed in as solely a scientific endeavor but can be extrapolated to the world of the arts.

After the speech Hoffman expressed his pleasure at speaking at the event, with specific regard to Baruch College.

“It was great, I always love coming to campuses as part of the City Universities. Especially places like Baruch where everyone is living out the American Dream. There is a large immigrant population and first generation population just like I was as a kid, I am very happy to be here,” Hoffman remarked.

Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Baruch College David Gruber also expressed his delight at Hoffman’s attendance.

“It was an inspiring lecture that pulled together seemingly disparate parts of chemistry into one very cohesive piece.”, he said.

Following Hoffman’s presentation and after a short break, the student researchers, along with their faculty advisors, presented their experimental findings to the attendees. While the majority of the attention was given Baruch students an interesting array of presentations from New York University, Hunter College and Brooklyn College were also given.From genetic engineering to chemical transformations, students were given a platform to showcase the capabilities of their school as well as their scientific ethic.

Michel Dabrowski, an aspiring doctor and senior at Baruch College and was very impressed with the event on the whole.

“Everyone knows we are a business school but it was nice to see us lead the symposium as most of the research presentations were by Baruch students. Additionally, the Baruch presentations were of a higher caliber, as students presented cancer research advancements, disease pathology treatments and even novel drug delivery methods.”, said Dabrowski.

The event culminated quite fittingly with a on stage reading of Oxygen, a highly acclaimed play created by Hoffmann and Carl Djerassi, the chemist behind birth control pills. 

The reading was performed by Break a Leg Productions and was a fitting end to an event, which not only celebrated the work of one of the world’s most famous sciences, but connected the seemingly unrelated worlds of science and art in a way not seen before.

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