March 14, 2013


Volume 7, Issue 24 – March 14, 2013


Habemus Chemist

Having taught for 17 years at a Catholic college, I was interested in who the choice of the new pope was going to be.  I had read in the British press how Peter Turkson, the Cardinal of Ghana was supposedly the odds-on favorite and the U.S. morning shows were all touting Cardinal Dolan of New York.  It was quite a surprise to find out that the real choice was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina—the first pope ever from the Americas.

I want to make it clear that there’s no truth to the rumor that it was due to my recommendation, but it was even more of a surprise to find out that Pope Francis is a member of the brotherhood—he has a degree in chemistry!  Not just a bachelors degree either, but a masters degree in chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires.  In fact, he not only has a degree in it—he taught it in a high school in northern Argentina early in his career, apparently as a form of exile for having displeased some of the higher ups in the Jesuit order, until he was called back to become the auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, and the rest is history.

Pope Francis is the first member ever of the Order of Jesus (the Jesuits) to become pope.  The Jesuits have historically been one of the more scientifically oriented orders.  Their website, in its science and technology section, states:

From the early days of the founding of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits have been engaged in various intellectual enterprises. These have included teaching, research, and writing. The Jesuit thrust to “find God in all things” has had the result that these efforts were not solely confined to the more “ecclesiastical” disciplines (like philosophy and theology), but were extended to the more “mundane” or “secular” disciplines. In the areas of science and technology many Jesuits have made, and continue to make, contributions. These contributions range from astronomy and algebra to natural history and geography.

I expect in the next day or two they’ll add chemistry to the list.  I dug around a bit to try to find out what area of chemistry he studied, but no one seems to have reported on that so far, focusing in on more esoteric matters.

Ultimately, what does it all mean?  Well, lots of things, but one of them is—don’t mess with us chemists.  We have friends in high places.

Best wishes for a successful papacy, Pope Francis, fellow chemist.

Polytechnic Summit Coming

Just a reminder that this year’s Polytechnic Summit will be in Boston at Wentworth University.  Get your abstracts in—the deadline is March 30.  For information, go to  The Summit will be from June 5-7.  Hope to see you there!


Misty York, of our English, Technical Communications, and Media Arts Department, sent me some great news about SPSU’s Speech Team.  On February 23, we hosted the 19th Georgia Intercollegiate Forensic Association (GIFA) state championships, and our team pulled off their best showing ever, placing 2nd as a team.  The Jack Hailey Pentathlon Award, given to the tournament’s top speaker, went to our own Tyler Maran, a Political science major.  It’s the first time someone from SPSU has won it.  Not to be outdone, Ruthanne Dyson, a Civil Engineering major, was elected GIFA student president for 2013-2014.

Misty tells me that the team is made up of ten students from all five schools on campus, participated in 17 events, and that every SPSU student came home with at least one award.  Congratulations to Misty, her fellow coaches Mark Stevens and Kelsey Harr-Lagin, and to all out students who participated.


Cool Events Coming Up

I don’t know if anything can top the “Pi Day” festivities we had yesterday, March 14, but there are a number of great events coming up that I’d like to draw your attention to.

This weekend on Saturday, March 16, is Science Olympiad.  Lance Crimm, Susan VandeVen and too many other volunteers to mention do a great job hosting hundreds of young scientists on our campus.  It’s always great to be there to help with the festivities, and to see so many proud students, teachers, and parents.

On Tuesday, March 19, Dr. Lawrence Eng, online community manager for ServiceNow, will be speaking on “The Evolution of Otaku Culture, from Japan to America and Beyond”.  For those who don’t know, otaku means “super-fan”, and the culture (at least in the US is usually tied to fans of Japanese animation (anime) and comics (manga).  This event is part of the International Forum Series and is also a First Year Experience event.

On Thursday, March 21, we have a trifecta of events:

–At noon in Q-202, all are invited to try their hand at Irish-American Heritage Jeopardy.  If you can answer questions, you can win prizes!

–Also at noon in the Design II Auditorium (Building I-2), Kazumi Hasegawa, a lecturer in Modern Japanese History from the University of Georgia, will present a lecture on “Examining the Life of Oyabe Zen’ichiro: Race, Masculinity, and Nation”.  Zen’ichiro was a Japanese student who studied in the United States in the 1890’s, and the lecture will explore the meaning of cultural identity.

–Finally, at 6:00 PM in Student Center Ballroom A, Professor Nicolas Florsch, scientific attaché and David Kibler, both from the Consulate General of France in Atlanta, will be speaking on “French Research Structures and Strategies” as well as study abroad opportunities in France.

I hope everyone can attend these important and interesting events, and will encourage their students to attend as well.



Race Card Project

Julie Newell (Social and International Studies) sent an interesting email the other day about a radio program she had heard on NPR, about the Race Card Project, wherein people are invited to submit their thoughts about race and cultural identity.  There’s only one catch—the thought has to be expressed in only six words.  You can see the website and listen to the program by clicking here.  Why six words, and not five or seven?  In the words of Michelle Norris, the reporter:

… this idea of telling a story in six words is a popular idea; there’s six-word memoirs, there’s six-words sports, six-word cities. And there is this urban legend that Ernest Hemingway threw down the gauntlet and challenged other writers to tell an interesting story and said if you were a writer worth your salt you could do it in only six words. And his six words, to prove his point, were: Baby shoes for sale; never worn.

Listening to the program and reading some of the submissions was painful.  There are so many people scarred by issues of race and cultural identity—the site was filled with people saying “I have no identity”, “Don’t judge me by my skin”, not to mention a disturbing number of postings and responses that were just plain ugly and hateful.

The phrase that the radio interview focused on was: “Ask who I am, not what.” from Jessica Hong, who lives in New Orleans, having moved there from Seattle.  When she gives that as an answer to the question “Where are you from?” she gets back “No—where are you really from?” until she says her family came from South Korea.  She feels like this means she isn’t accepted as a “true” American and it has gotten old really fast for her:

Yes, it’s not, you know, blatantly mean or rude or hateful, but it’s still, it adds up.  It’s like adding pebbles into a backpack.  Eventually your backpack is 20 pounds, you know?

When asked “If you’re meeting someone for the first time and you are interested in their racial and ethnic background, is there a proper way to ask about it that’s comfortable for everyone involved?” she answered:

I think so long as your intention is to really know a person and the whole of who they are, you will learn that.  I think maybe just ease up on knowing it right away, maybe check your anxiety a little bit.  You know, why is it that you feel like you need to know right away?

This struck a chord with me, but not because I get stopped a lot and because of my appearance and asked “Where are you from?”.  I get asked that question a lot because of my name—usually in the form of “That’s an unusual name.  Where are you from?”  Sometimes I answer the question one way (“I’m was born in Israel”), sometimes another (“My first name is Hebrew, and my last name is Persian, via Poland”), and sometimes when I’m in a playful mood, I answer it “I’m from New Hampshire”.  I tend to get the same response no matter what—“Oh…that’s interesting”, and then some discussion of what life is like in Israel, how did the name get from Persia to Poland, and about the nice foliage in New Hampshire in the autumn.  It’s very rare that I get a nasty response, and even then, it’s usually one born of ignorance rather than malice.  Or at least I choose to take it that way.  In other words, I don’t mind the question—I see it as an attempt to break the ice and find out more about the person.  I tend to ask it myself when I’ve been to where I think the person is from, so that it gives me an opportunity to talk about what a nice time I had in that place.  In a previous BLAB, I wrote about how pleased I was to run into someone from Guanajuato, Mexico at an open house on campus, because Guanajuato is one of the most interesting places I’ve every been.  They were surprised I had ever heard of it, let alone been there, and a pleasant conversation ensued.

So, Jessica, I get your point and I’m aware that people have had experiences with this that are much worse than mine, but ultimately I think the world works out better if people ask.  Madeline Hsu’s six word essay was the poignant: “I am more than you recognize.” How true.  And about everyone.

Last Time’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest had to do with the name “Diego” and our winner was Jacqueline Stephens, first with a respectable four correct.  A CD is on its way!  Here are the correct answers:

  1. Large city in California, home to a large zoo and naval base.  San Diego
  2. Nickelodeon children’s television series, similar to Dora the Explorer.  Go, Diego, Go! or Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?
  3. Former Argentinian soccer star, arguably the greatest player of all time (he won the FIFA Player of the 20th Century, along with Pele).  Diego Maradona
  4. Actor who plays Mike Faber in Showtime’s series “Homeland”.  Diego Klattenhoff.
  5. Strategic island in the Indian Ocean, home to British/American military bases.  Diego Garcia.

This Week’s Trivia Challenge

This week’s challenge, in honor of Women’s History Month, all have to do with women.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Hell hath no fury like…  [The line is actually an adaptation from the play “The Mourning Bride” by William Congreve in 1697).
  2. Comic book Amazon and member of the Justice League.
  3. 1947 movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.
  4. Bob Marley song, also done by Hugh Masekela and lots of others.
  5. John 4:4-26; a famous painting about this is called The Water of Life by Giacomo Franceschini.
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3 Responses to March 14, 2013

  1. Margaret V says:

    Love the Race Card project concept. And love the new chemist-pope. If only he could be a woman…. 😉

  2. Mark Stevens says:

    So why do the Cardinals always get to pick the Pope? Why not the Reds or the Mets?

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