An English Major, an Esteemed Chemist, a Haverford Grad

An English Major, an Esteemed Chemist, a Haverford Grad

It was a full house in the lounge of the Visual Culture, Arts, and Media building (VCAM) as Ted Love ’81 led a conversation with Stephen Lippard ’62, whose work in the field of bioinorganic chemistry has led to pioneering advancements in cancer-fighting medication, clean-fuel technologies, and neurology. “An Evening With Stephen Lippard,” part of an ongoing series of events sponsored by the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation (NSTMF), gave students the chance to hear about Lippard’s long and successful career, and also the time he spent at Haverford that paved the way for it all.

Dr. Stephen Lippard and Dr. Ted Love.

NSTMF’s “An Evening With” program is designed to give students and young STEM professionals exposure to major trailblazers in science and technology. Following a series of questions asked of Lippard by Love, audience members had the chance to ask questions of their own. A reception that followed the Q&A encouraged further personal interaction.

“By providing a forum for Dr. Lippard to share his scientific accomplishments as well as his personal journey through chemistry, we aim to give students a broader understanding of who Dr. Lippard is as a person and what he has been able to accomplish.” said NSTMF Executive Director Andy Rathmann-Noonan. “Scientific luminaries like Dr. Lippard should not just be defined by their technical contributions; we feel strongly that these individuals should be understood as people through the firsthand telling of their own diverse and unique story”

Lippard, who won the National Medal of Science in Chemistry in 2004, made sure to explain the extent of his research, which has focused on the biological role of metal ions, a subject he called a “forgotten part of chemistry.” He also had rich details to share about his upbringing, how he ended up at Haverford, and the character of his experience at the College. Though he ended up pursuing graduate education in chemistry, English drew his primary interest at Haverford. His senior thesis was about the genre of medieval allegory plays from Chaucer to Shakespeare. He also talked about his ability to speak fluent German thanks to his Haverford education, and his memories of the Honor Code and early exposure to scientific research with the late Haverford Chemistry Professor Colin McKay.

Dr. Lippard spoke a lot more about Haverford in particular than I thought he was going to. He reminisced about the way the Honor Code functioned while he was here, and about how the community has shifted,” said Hannah Kolzer ’22. “He had some really amazing research opportunities as an undergraduate here, which is motivational to me because I’ve been debating whether to pursue such opportunities on this campus.”

When it came to his career, Lippard spoke of what has piqued his interest in the field of chemistry. The beauty of chemistry as a field, he said, is the ability to create new things. Chemistry, he said, exists within a balance of art and science. For this reason, he stressed the importance of being able to run experiments that go wrong, which can sometimes be forgotten within the “as quickly as you can” mindset in scientific industries.

Dr. Stephen Lippard ’62 in front of the VCAM building.

“I really enjoyed hearing Stephen Lippard talk about the importance of being able to recognize when something meaningful occurs, whether or not we achieve our original goal,” said Sarah Evenson ’21. “It is easy as a student to focus on doing what is asked of you and to be frustrated when something goes wrong, even when you may have done some meaningful work. As Stephen said, some of the most important breakthroughs and technologies have come from mistakes.”

As the Arthur Amos Noyes Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at MIT, Lippard has had the chance to share in this process with hundreds of students.

“Professor is short for the professional student,” said Lippard. “One of the beauties about teaching is what you learn from your students.”

In the spirit of reciprocal learning, “An Evening With Stephen Lippard” was a two-way street, where great scientific minds of the future met an established scientific pioneer on their common ground of Haverford.

“It was interesting to hear Dr. Lippard talk about his time at Haverford, especially since it was clear that much has changed since he was here in the ’60s, but the Haverfordian drive to always be learning and improving was evident in the way he spoke about his work,” said Johanna Fowler ’21, who is planning on majoring in chemistry. “His talk left me inspired, thinking about what I could accomplish after my time at Haverford.”

Watch the full conversation:

Photos by Alexandria Iglesia ’21. 

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