Letter from Dean F. Jon Kull

Republished from the Graduate Student Forum

Dear Graduate Community,

Greetings from Hanover!

I have had a really fantastic year in my role as Dean of Graduate Studies. It has been extremely rewarding to be able to work with the Trustees, President Hanlon, Dean of the Faculty Mike Mastanduno, and the other senior leaders on a regular basis. As you no doubt have heard, one of President Hanlon’s aspirational goals is to set up a freestanding Graduate School. I feel that creating a Graduate School will be a clear signal that Dartmouth is committed not only to maintaining its excellence in undergraduate education, but also to supporting and expanding the research and scholarship of its graduate students and faculty. A Graduate School is a way to acknowledge the essential and distinctive role of graduate students within the broader Dartmouth community, and it will definitely strengthen Dartmouth’s national and international reputation.

Dartmouth Chemist Questions Justification for Chemophobia

Joseph Blumberg

Gordon Gribble was given a chemistry set at age 10, and he was hooked for life. “I knew then I wanted to be some kind of chemist,” he says. Today, the San Francisco native champions the battle against “chemophobia,” which he defines as an exaggerated and irrational fear of chemicals. This is the topic of his March 2013 paper published in the journal Food Security. A faculty member for more than 45 years, Gribble is now The Dartmouth Professor of Chemistry, an endowed chair to which he was named in 2005.

As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, he encountered organic chemistry—the study of chemical compounds with carbon atoms—and pursued it in graduate school at the University of Oregon. “I was really fascinated with organic chemistry, and it’s what I have been doing ever since,” he says.

Words of Wisdom from Professor Jon Kull '88

F. Jon Kull ’88
Dean of Graduate Studies and the Rodgers Professor of Chemistry
Alma Mater: Dartmouth College

Jon Kull’s college choices came down to Dartmouth, Harvard, Amherst, or Williams.

“I remember visiting Dartmouth,” says Kull, who grew up in rural Pennsylvania. “I don’t think I even went on a campus tour. But I walked through Baker-Berry Library and that was it—my decision was made. It seemed like such a great place.”

At Dartmouth, Kull participated in the Dartmouth Outing Club, traveled to Germany on a Foreign Study Program, and double majored in chemistry and biology.  While he thoroughly enjoyed chemistry and biology, Kull encourages students to take classes outside of their major.

“Dartmouth offers the rare opportunity to learn from a world expert, no matter what the department,” says Kull. “After college, it is going to be either very difficult or hugely expensive to have that kind of access to an expert.”

Are Worries About Chemical Danger Overblown?

In a story about “chemophobia,” or the fear of chemicals, The Boston Globe highlights the research of Gordon Gribble, the Dartmouth Professor of Chemistry. Gribble, the Globe points out, says avoiding all products that contain chemicals is impossible.

The article refers to Gribble’s research that focuses on the pesticides and fertilizers used in the agriculture industry. The chemicals, Gribble tells the Globe, are of little risk when consumed in small amounts. “Any synthetic pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables are minor, and today’s products are extremely safe. We don’t use dangerous chemicals like cyanide anymore.”

Read the full story, published 8/26/13 by The Boston Globe.

Scientists Create New Tools for Battling Secondhand Smoke

Joseph Blumberg

Dartmouth researchers have taken an important step in the ongoing battle against secondhand tobacco smoke. They have pioneered the development of a breakthrough device that can immediately detect the presence of secondhand smoke and even thirdhand smoke.

Smaller and lighter than a cellphone and about the size of a Matchbox car, the device uses polymer films to collect and measure nicotine in the air. A sensor chip then records the data on an SD memory card. The technology is described in a new study appearing in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

Chemistry in Action Transcends the Classroom

Joseph Blumberg

With a pyrotechnic demonstration, Professor F. Jon Kull ’88 initiates students into the mysteries of chemistry while simultaneously engaging, educating, and entertaining them. Kull presented the show as part of “Biology/Chemistry 9,” a course he and Roger Sloboda teach that is a combination of introductory chemistry and biology. This is the second year they have taught the course, funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The demonstration was held outside of Steele Hall at the end of class on Tuesday, January 22. The ingredients for a thermite reaction—aluminum powder and iron oxide—were mixed in a terracotta flowerpot. Kull then initiated the reaction by adding a few drops of glycerin to some potassium permanganate.

Dartmouth Research Pursues Problematic Polymers

Joseph Blumberg

“You look at the material world and see objects and how you can use them. I look at the material world and see a fascinating hidden life which is within our control, if we can only understand how it works,” says Jane Lipson, the Albert W. Smith Professor of Chemistry at Dartmouth. Lipson looks at things from the point of view of both a chemist and a physicist. “What I do lies between the two sciences, and there is some engineering thrown in there, too,” she says.

Lipson is a polymer chemist who, by definition, deals with long chain molecules composed of repeating structural units. She constructs mathematical models that can explain and predict the behavior of these molecules. “The math is a shortcut to the physical behavior. You look at it and it is a bunch of equations, but there is actual physical behavior in there,” she says.

Dartmouth Programs Awarded Dept. of Education Grants

Bonnie Barber

The graduate programs in Dartmouth’s departments of biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics and astronomy have been awarded more than $2 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education through the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) program. These federal grants will fund 17 three-year graduate fellowships, supporting the training of top graduate students who demonstrate financial need and are pursuing doctoral degrees in designated fields of national need.

Dartmouth Graduate Studies programs have received nearly $8 million in GAANN awards since 2004, and Dean of Graduate Studies F. Jon Kull says he is “delighted that Dartmouth has had unprecedented success in the last two rounds of funding.”

Chemistry Professor Appointed Dean of Graduate Studies

Bonnie Barber

Michael Mastandunodean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Dartmouth, has appointed Chemistry Professor F. Jon Kull ’88 to the position of dean of Graduate Studies. Kull, the inaugural holder of the Rodgers Professorship at Dartmouth College, began his three-year term this month.