Fresno researcher receives national award

March 21, 2000

Recognized for encouraging students to be imaginative and independent

Chemist George B. Kauffman of Fresno, Calif., will be honored on March 28 by the world's largest scientific society for more than 43 years of guiding students to think and act imaginatively and independently. He will receive the American Chemical Society Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution at the Society's national meeting in San Francisco.

"I really have no particular philosophy about teaching," said Kauffman, now retired from California State University, Fresno. "I just see where nature leads us. Usually by the time a research project is finished, the student has learned all kinds of things -- and so have I."

Kauffman stands out because, as a professor at a primarily undergraduate university, he listed the students who helped him conduct research as co-authors on 152 published articles.

"He was willing to expose his weaknesses, his strengths, his humor and his love of knowledge and science like no other teacher that I have had," wrote Dwaine O. Cowan, one of Kauffman's 73 student co-authors, to support his nomination. Cowan, now professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University, remembered how Kauffman allowed him "to make my own mistakes, break glassware, experience discouragement when reactions failed, and to enjoy a new and exhilarating sensation -- the elation of discovery."

Kauffman, an inorganic chemist, describes himself as "a Renaissance man."

"I've always been interested in history," he said, "what motivates people, what attracted them to a particular field." To that end, many projects he assigned students had a historical twist: recreating a classic experiment of Louis Pasteur, for example.

Kauffman said he fixed on becoming a chemist not long after receiving a chemistry set for his seventh birthday. "Then, when I was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, my teaching assistant, Lou Baker, allowed me to work in his lab," he remembered. "I guess I decided to repay the debt."

The ACS Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution is sponsored by Research Corporation of Tucson, Ariz.
A nonprofit organization with a membership of 161,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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