Students and Faculty Rush to Rush Hour
by Michelle Simmons
April 1, 2010
“Our community knows that [Benjamin] Rush was a college founder and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence but forgets that he was a chemist, physician and ‘father of modern psychiatry,’ ” says Rush Hour co-founder Sarah St. Angelo (left). “Dr. Rush was the original Dickinson interdisciplinarian in science and beyond.” Co-founder Kristi Humphreys is at right.
In the early days of the Enlightenment, before the sciences became individual disciplines, leading “natural philosophers” formed entities such as the Royal Society of London to hold lectures and share their latest findings. Later, America’s Founding Fathers and premier scientists Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush and Joseph Priestley would do the same.
Honoring that tradition—but with a Dickinson twist—assistant professors of chemistry Sarah St. Angelo and Kristi Humphreys recently launched Rush Hour, an interdisciplinary lunchtime lecture series in the Stafford Auditorium of the Rector Science Complex. Neil Weissman, provost and dean of the college, sponsors the series by providing lunch—pizza, iced tea and cookies.
“The goal is to highlight and foster interdisciplinary pursuits in the sciences at Dickinson,” says St. Angelo. “We want our students to realize that different disciplines and subdisciplines rely on each other and not to think of science subjects as unrelated.”
Chemistry and mathematics double major Jeff Rodgers ’10, who has attended every lecture, is happy to participate after studying abroad at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. “Rush Hour is a fantastic series that really got me back into the swing of an engaging academic experience,” he says. “The content of the talks … spans the scientific curricula.”
The first Rush Hour featured Surviving Hypoxia by Associate Professor of Biology Chuck Zwemer, who explained how he tapped into chemistry, biology, math and engineering to design and implement his research on mice in low-oxygen environments. The 120-seat auditorium was filled to capacity (and then some) and has been for every seminar since.
Associate Professor of Geology Ben Edwards’ seminar on glaciovolcanism tied together geology and physical chemistry to explain volcano-ice interactions. For his lecture, John MacCormick, assistant professor of computer science, asked the question, “What should a scientist know about computer science?” And in November, Humphreys shared initial results of faculty-student research on copper and ruthenium compounds in medicine, specifically NAMI-A, a metastatic inhibitor that may help fight cancer.
Chemistry major Melissa Dean ’10 was pleasantly surprised to hear her name mentioned during Humphreys’ seminar. “She’s going through the lecture and puts up NAMI-A on the slide,” says Dean. “There’s my compound. That’s the cool thing. It got other people excited—chemistry faculty, other students.”
Humphreys says that’s exactly the aim of Rush Hour—to connect students and faculty across the disciplines and spark new ideas. “[Professor of Biology] John Henson contacted us about looking at the anti-cancer activity of the drug in cell lines,” she says. “That was a direct outcome of the seminar.”
This spring, St. Angelo and Humphreys have speakers confirmed for physics, neuroscience, environmental science and bioinformatics. They’ll continue to schedule Dickinson faculty and occasional outside speakers—perhaps from Johns Hopkins University and the Food and Drug Administration.
Edwards anticipates future collaborative possibilities. “Because most of our departments are small and we’re very busy teaching, it’s easy to begin to feel a bit isolated,” he says. “So a seminar like Rush Hour is an opportunity to build a community of scientists … from a broad range of disciplines. Sarah and Kristi have helped create a liberal-arts-style science community, very much like the very first coherent group of Western scientists.”