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Chemistry conference returns to campus, 65 years after its founding

Barry McNamara
Associate Professor of Chemistry Brad Sturgeon poses with a poster that has a photo of the first MACTLAC meeting at Monmouth in 1952.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Sixty-five years after being organized by a legendary Monmouth College chemistry professor, one of the Midwest’s oldest academic organizations is coming home.

The Midwestern Association of Chemistry Teachers in Liberal Arts Colleges will hold its annual meeting Oct. 13-14 at Monmouth College.

MACTLAC was founded in 1952 by legendary Monmouth chemistry professor William Haldeman. Organized during the school year that Monmouth observed a year-long celebration of its centennial, Haldeman sought to address an issue that was common in pre-Information Age society.

“It’s ironic that many of us have labored so long in the same geographical region and during this time have gotten to know so little of one another,” wrote Haldeman in an invitation to attend the first meeting of the organization. “If the conference serves to widen and deepen our acquaintance, and to give us insight with respect to our work, it has been worthy of the feature during Monmouth’s anniversary year.”

Today, MACTLAC continues to do what Haldeman hoped it would, according to Monmouth Associate Professor of Chemistry Brad Sturgeon.

“It brings together chemistry faculty, living in the same area, dealing with the same students,” he said. “We benefit from everybody’s knowledge. ... Bringing faculty together to talk about what goes in the classroom (and) the decisions that we make is a really critical part of knowing how you stand when it comes to teaching people chemistry.”

In preparation for this year’s conference, Sturgeon had a group of the College’s summer research students digitize the history of MACTLAC. Another group focused its efforts on “The Women of MACTLAC.”

Sturgeon expects more than 60 participants for the conference, which has the theme “Expanding the Curriculum.”

“Chemistry is a very traditional discipline,” he said. “What we teach is similar in most undergraduate situations. ... What makes the liberal arts unique is that we can integrate other things.”

For example, Sturgeon will lead a workshop about Monmouth’s Coffee Project, a science-business initiative he oversees. Other workshops will explore 3-D fabrication, which uses 3-D printing and laser-cutting to advance chemistry teaching; integrating food into the curriculum; and the extraction of essential oils.

Of the latter workshop, Sturgeon said, “(These oils) are a very unique classification of organic compounds. They’re used for medicinal purposes, but nobody really knows what they do. ... Our students are going to answer those questions. ... We’re preparing these students to think critically about what’s going on, and so they need to be exposed to these things at this early stage.”

The plenary lecturer for the conference will be Commissioner Debra Shore from the Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, who is charged with initiating programs within the city of Chicago that deal with water resources. Her talk will focus on phosphorus recovery.

As Monmouth College’s sole physical chemist, Sturgeon said he appreciates MACTLAC for the opportunity to talk to other physical chemists.

“Through MACTLAC, I have other physical chemists I can go to if I have a problem,” he said. “Having (this) at our disposal every year, I get to interact with these people I call friends and colleagues.”