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Because of the senior thesis requirement, independent research has had an important role in the curriculum since the College’s inception. Some early thesis projects lacked the laboratory component that has come to be the central feature of a Reed thesis. R. K. Strong, in particular, supervised a number of theses that evaluated the chemical industry from existing data. However, by the mid-1930’s the senior research topics had taken on a remarkable breadth, including surface chemistry, organic synthesis, electrochemistry and inorganic chemistry. Again, Arthur Scott can be seen as a strong influence in the development of research in the undergraduate environment. In his career at Reed, he amassed numerous publications stemming from his research. After World War II, research assistants appear regularly in the list of College professional staff. In 1949, the Department moved from the top floor of Eliot Hall to a dedicated chemistry building (later to be named for Scott) on the east side of campus. This one floor structure was built in part with student labor, at a low cost to the College. The labs were designed specifically to support teaching and student research, with the latter taking place in individual faculty laboratories. The building was expanded in 1959 with fifty percent of the funds coming from the National Institutes of Health.

After the war, external funding became an important component in shaping laboratory opportunities. Grants obtained from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the American Chemical Society, the Department of Defense and others supported active summer research programs as well as thesis projects. Furthermore, the Department assembled an impressive array of high quality instrumentation that was applied to both research and teaching. These included an x-ray diffraction apparatus, double beam ultraviolet and infrared recording spectrophotometers, and a gamma ray pulse height analyzer. The latter was associated with a dedicated radiochemistry laboratory that contained a "pickle barrel" reactor. Perhaps no other departmental resource better typifies the Department’s quest to provide an accessible research environment for undergraduates than this facility. In 1968, through Arthur Scott’s energetic fund-raising efforts, Reed became the only liberal arts college in the nation with a 250 kW nuclear reactor. Throughout its existence, the Reactor Facility has been staffed by student operators and senior operators. A rigorous, non-credit training program prepares students, over the course of a year, to take the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s license exam. This facility has permitted outstanding opportunities for local collaborations with Portland State and Oregon Health Sciences University, as well as educational opportunities for a number of local colleges and high schools. The development of the Chemistry Department during this period was heavily supported by an active faculty, who participated in national education and research activities, and the fact that Reed College had relatively few competitors among small colleges for the funding programs that emerged at mid-century.

By the 1980’s the Chemistry Department was entering a new period of growth and development. The creation of the Improvement of Laboratory Instrumentation (ILI) program at the NSF played an important role in providing the Department with topnotch instrumentation for classroom and research use. John Hancock was among the first to exploit this opportunity, writing successful proposals that brought the Department an FT- IR spectrophotometer, a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer, and a 300 MHz FT NMR. Likewise Hancock spearheaded the purchase of computing equipment in the Department. Serving as an early director of Reed’s Computing Center, Hancock was enthusiastic about the role of computers in chemistry and obtained a number of high end workstations for the Department. These activities have been pursued by more recent faculty as well. Through Alan Shusterman’s efforts, numerous high-end graphics workstations have been purchased with funds provided by the NSF ILI program and the Keck Foundation. Also, a modern x-ray diffraction facility, also funded by ILI, was assembled by Margret Geselbracht. Both have seen heavy use in classes and in student research.

Likewise, in this period, Ron McClard’s arrival on campus reinvigorated the research atmosphere of the Department. Through a long-term collaboration with John Witte, a PhD organic chemist who has been a research associate (and sometime professor) in the Department, McClard has sustained a vigorous, externally funded program. More recent additions to the faculty have likewise assembled ongoing research programs that have been funded by the NIH AREA program, the American Chemical Society, and the Research Corporation. Perhaps the most notable grant was awarded to Geselbracht in 1998, when she received one of the few NSF CAREER grants to be given to a faculty researcher at a liberal arts college.

After prodding by John Hancock and Tom Dunne, College President Jim Powell made it a major goal to raise funds for a new building, with great success. In April of 1991, ground was broken for a state-of-the-art facility. In 1992, it was completed and the department moved into its new quarters. Designed by the Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership, it increased assignable square feet by 41% for a total of 24,000 assignable square feet containing 18 labs, 21 offices, 2 computer rooms, one conference room, one classroom, a darkroom and a lounge. Total cost was $8.8 million, with substantial funding from the Murdock Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

At the time of this writing, the health of the Department is strong. Between 150- 200 first year students pass through the general chemistry course (many of them non-science majors), and a typical graduating class has 15 chemistry and interdisciplinary chemistry majors, each completing a year long independent research project in a faculty member’s laboratory. Also, summer research has continued to be an emphasis, with between 12-15 students spending the summer following their sophomore and junior years engaged in collaboration with Reed faculty members. While the Department does not have the staff or resources to provide a research experience comparable to that at a research university, the close contact between faculty and student leads to a personal intellectual interchange that offers many compensating benefits.

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