Chemistry Club catalyzes

When what some jokingly — or perhaps not so jokingly — call “officially the nerdiest club on campus” sat down for its weekly dinner on Tuesday night, the conversation ranged from serious discussions of scientific experiments to jokes about the titles given to the group’s leaders, such as “experiment-meister.”

After the Yale Chemistry Club was officially recognized as a student group by the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee in the fall, it has increased its activities to attract more members. In addition to its new weekly dinners, the club has hosted discussions with professors, a movie night and has conducted scientific experiments.

The club is intended to be a forum for students interested in chemistry, club president Max Kushner-Lenhoff ’12 said.

“There are a lot of cool people interested in chemistry at Yale,” he said. “But there hasn’t been an opportunity for them to get together.”

At Tuesday’s dinner, students discussed the club’s last experiment — making rayon fibers used in clothing — and future plans for the club. Kushner-Lenhoff suggested hosting joint events with other clubs and Zach Litman ’12 proposed conducting experiments involving cellulose.

Litman said the club’s experiments are driven by a desire to do more stimulating work than what is offered in class.

“In lab, they give you cookie cutter experiments, but they don’t give you the liberty to explore,” said Litman, who is affectionately called the club’s “experiment-meister” because of his role in directing experiments.

Since their experiments often involve items such as chemicals that can only be bought through Yale, the group faces difficulty when it comes to funding their work, club treasurer Danie Monahan ’12 said. Because it is difficult to use money from the UOFC to purchase experiment materials, the group has had to rely on materials that can be easily found in undergraduate labs, as well as the generosity of professors, she added.

The experiments have led chemistry club members to explore odd avenues such as making clothing from leaves, Litman said.

Monahan noted that in addition to its experiments, the group meets on Science Hill on Fridays after toiling away in their lengthy Friday labs.

One recent Science Hill event was a screening of “Young Frankenstein” in the Sterling Chemistry Laboratory, Monahan said. The group’s faculty advisor, chemistry professor Kurt Zilm, brought popcorn and a two-liter beaker full of candy.

It turned out that chemistry club members weren’t the only ones making use of the laboratory’s large screens and sound systems that night, Monahan said. The club saw several graduate students using another lecture hall to play the video game Rock Band.

Though attendance at Tuesday’s dinner was sparse — only six members showed up — the club’s actual membership lies somewhere between the 20 active participants and the 36 students on the group’s panlist, Litman said.

The chemistry club is seeking to expand, perhaps even to include interested non-science majors, Kushner-Lenhoff said. But there is some trepidation about bringing in less dedicated and less knowledgeable students, he said.

“You don’t have to be a chem major, but you have to enjoy chemistry,” Kushner-Lenhoff said.

The club hosts dinners each Tuesday night, and is hoping to conduct its next experiment next week.

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