Organic Chemistry - David Y Curtin

After graduation from the University of Iowa (where I joined Alpha Chi Sigma), I arrived at the Zeta House in September of 1963. It was full at the time, so I had to bunk in the unheated sleeping porch. Eventually, the weather got so cold I couldn't stand it anymore. Bill Pickens and Jon Yatabe were kind enough to let me move another bed into their room until the second semester when I was able to room with Romeo Toledo. I moved out in June of 1964 when I got married.

Although my stay there was brief, I can recall many memorable experiences during my time on Ohio Street. I quickly discovered just how demanding Graduate School was going to be for me at the University of Illinois. After only two utterly miserable weeks of being totally lost, confused and discouraged in Dr. Goodisman's Quantum Mechanics class, I dropped the course. And then, with a huge “Psi” of relief, I promptly changed my minor from Physical Chemistry to Biochemistry. For this act of desperation, my unsympathetic brothers presented me with the infamous Chicken Award. I gladly accepted this dubious honor, feeling it was better to be a live Chicken than a flunked out graduate student.

Later that year, I prepared a large quantity of a bicyclic ester for a class assignment in the High Pressure Lab. When I opened the bomb and poured out the product, I realized too late that I had literally let the Genie out of the bottle – an overpowering, nauseating stench that could best be described as a combination of dirty feet and raw sewage. Mercifully for me, after a few moments, my olfactory receptors had become completely saturated. Because I was unable to smell it anymore, I had no idea that it had already thoroughly permeated my clothes, my hair, the very pores of my skin, and, especially my heavy winter corduroy coat hanging in the room. When I returned for dinner that evening, everyone wondered where that horrible stink was coming from. When they figured out it was me, I was banished to a separate table as far removed from the other diners as possible. My coat was not allowed in the house, and had to be hung outdoors for a week until the odor finally dissipated.

My first job after graduation was with Pfizer in Groton, Connecticut. Three years later, I moved back to the Midwest and joined 3M, where I have been for the last 37 years, doing work in Organic Chemistry, dealing with the synthesis of both small molecules and polymers, especially silicones. I have been able to continue work as a laboratory chemist despite going totally blind 18 years ago. This has been made possible thanks to the amazing software that translates text from paper or computer screens into speech; and, to the talented research assistants who run the reactions for me, and through whom I can still vicariously enjoy the thrill of a beautiful recrystallization.

Charles M Leir
1463 W. Hoyt Ave
St. Paul, MN 55108

(651) 647-0648


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