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December 2008 - January 2009

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Lee Capristo
Director of Publications
Anne Arundel 100

From the President
Maggie O'Brien

I started teaching at Middlebury College in 1980 and learned in the first three years that teaching a class is far different from learning the new subject in that class. I realized quickly that I knew far less chemistry than I thought I did. One of my first semester students was Dr. Ingrid Burke, now director of the Haub School and Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment & Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming. After reading graduate Meghan Sullivan’s article, “The Pull of the Night Sky,” starting on page 1, I figure it might just have been a miracle that Ingrid was in that class of mine so long ago. She sat me down after my first two weeks of lectures and gave me the ultimatum (also known fondly in my family as the Old Tomato): “No more daily surveys of every element you know. We really don’t need a detailed excursion of every oxygen allotrope.” Without the Old Tomato Miracle, I may just have kept going like a robot, beating up a subject and a class that wanted learning to be fun, not drudgery. Henceforth, fun ruled, because science is fun.

It’s also serious, and deep. Like Mary Clapp ’09 in her wonderfully insightful article on page 14, (incidentally I can’t help but mention that Mary’s mother Peggy is a St. Mary’s alumna who graduated in 1983 with a major in biology) I spent many hours at a comparable age working through the mechanics of an experiment, simultaneously having fun and thinking through the big questions. What big truth of biochemistry lay beneath the little questions I was asking? Specifically, I just couldn’t accept the mechanism of steroid hormone movement into cells that was then prevalent, and I spent a dozen years working with dozens of student colleagues to prove otherwise. Like St. Mary’s student researchers, most of my students went on to graduate or professional schools. Some are now faculty members, many are physicians, and some are policymakers or run family businesses. All of us, like Mary, still ruminate on the question Mary asks: “And isn’t it the aim of science to pursue the truth?” As we used to say in our laboratory banter, “We’re after truth with a capital T!”

Thirty years ago I was a pig in mud (pig references have such buoyancy these days) talking about Truth, but I was much more reluctant to talk about personal things like Religion or Politics or Feelings. In Nicole Carlozo’s exceptional reflection of her public IVF moment on page 12, I marvel at her description of her in-body/out-of-body conversations. And I can’t help but mention that Nicole, Mary and Meghan are all scientists (Meghan might argue with this but science is a habit not a degree) who write remarkably well. Just read Professor Katherine Socha’s “The Poetry of Math” and then catch Professor Kate Chandler’s inclusion of Emily Dickinson’s reflections on nature and you get the picture of the sciences and arts at St. Mary’s: no strangers, they.

This may sound like a DuPont commercial, but scientists give us some of the most important advances of our times. And when they speak they offer some of the most important perspectives.

This issue of the River Gazette is a treasure. Kudos to our writers and to the science faculty and students of St. Mary’s College.

—Jane Margaret O’Brien