Chemistry Chair Applauds Department’s Perseverance and Achievements in Recognition Assembly

May 24, 2022
brick building against blue sky, trees, and grass

On April 29, members of the Department of Chemistry gathered in the iconic Sterling Chemistry Laboratory lecture hall 110 to celebrate each other’s accomplishments in the first large event after nearly two years of social distancing. Chair Kurt W. Zilm, William K. Lanman Professor of Chemistry, paid tribute to the hard work, perseverance, and achievements of the ~400 department members in a recognition presentation.

“I thought it would be fitting as things start returning to semi-normal that we give some awards and also use this opportunity to celebrate what we’ve accomplished in the last two years,” Zilm said as he clicked through the first slide. “And I have to say, putting this together has been pretty inspirational, knowing that I get to work with this community. You all have just been amazing and should be extraordinarily proud of the way this department has worked for the last couple of years.” With that, the packed audience applauded and cheered.

During the presentation, he acknowledged critical staff who continued to work on campus during the pandemic to keep the research labs and core facilities running. He welcomed new community members and clicked through slide after slide of news headlines – a testament to the department’s unwavering commitment to research.

Despite the challenges of remote learning and working, everyone – from faculty and postdocs to students and staff – played a part in running the department successfully. During the past two years, much has been accomplished in research, remote learning, DEIB initiatives, virtual events, student group activities, and outreach.

Many faculty received awards for their contributions to research and academia, while students and postdocs received awards for their performance in chemistry. The assembly was an opportunity to applaud those individuals.

Special guest and chemistry alumnus Everly B. Fleischer ‘58 BS, ‘61 Ph.D., joined the assembly via video call to induct the 2022 Fleischer Fellows, funded by an endowment established by him and his brothers Allan A. Fleischer ’60 Ph.D. (deceased) and Arthur Fleischer Jr. ‘53 BA, ‘58 LLB. The endowment provides funding for the Fleischer Prize, given to recognize exceptional graduating seniors, and also supports summer fellowships for chemistry majors in the summer between their junior and senior years.

The 2022 Fleischer Fellows, Maria Grillo, Madison Houck, and Alisia Pan, made their way to the podium webcam to meet Prof. Fleischer. Cameron Germe, the 4th fellow, could not attend.

Fleischer congratulated them and said, “If I were there at Yale today, I would give you some information about what I did at Yale as an undergraduate working in the lab. This hands-on laboratory experience actually set the stage for most of my successful research over the past years.”

Zilm then announced the 2022 Richard Wolfgang Prizes, recognizing the best theses of graduating  graduate students: David Charboneau, Ethan Perets, Elizabeth Stone, and Zhen (Coraline) Tao.

2022 brought with it the inaugural Wasserman Prize for Excellence in Teaching Undergraduate Chemistry, established in honor of the late Harry H. Wasserman ‘62 MAH, Ph.D. He was a legendary organic chemistry teacher who taught at Yale for 50 years and was an accomplished watercolorist. In his famously entertaining Margarita Lecture, with artistic flair at the blackboard and panache at the lecture table, he prepared the cocktail in a salt-rimmed glass and then consumed it to demonstrate that chloride does not displace hydroxide from ethanol by nucleophilic substitution to yield corrosive sodium hydroxide.

This year’s recipient of the Wasserman Prize for Excellence in Teaching Undergraduate Chemistry is Professor Patrick Vaccaro.

Zilm read a quote from one of his students. “Vaccaro’s undergraduate teaching is nothing short of gifted. He goes far, far above and beyond what is required of a lecturer…provides immaculate lecture notes and presentations.

 As a student with a disability, the structure and thoroughness of his lecture style are really helpful because though I struggle to stay organized, his materials and lectures make it really easy for me to get back on track.”

The assembly was a joyous event marked by spirited hurrahs and applause. Afterward, the celebration continued at the department picnic in the Chemistry courtyard, where folks enjoyed socializing over a BBQ lunch and playing games on one of the first sunny days of spring.

See photos of the picnic.