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Chemistry club takes it to the people

By Christine Buckley, CLAS Today

Students gather in the chemistry building lobby to try the liquid nitrogen ice cream.

Students gather in the chemistry building lobby to try the liquid nitrogen ice cream.

On an average summer day in Storrs, you might just get lucky enough to run across some free ice cream somewhere on campus.

But what about ice cream made with liquid nitrogen? Cream, sugar and vanilla mixed together with the stuff and flash frozen at negative 300 degrees, complete with those sliding and billowing clouds of nitrogen fog?

Senior Carmichael Gugilotti could tell you just where and when to find it. As president of the UConn Chemistry Club, he and his fellow club members took to the chemistry building’s atrium last fall to make and give away the creamy confection.

“The fog definitely drew attention to it,” he remembers. “Also, we froze marshmallows.”

As the main conduit among chemistry students and faculty at UConn, the club, also known as the Student Affiliate of the American Chemical Society, helps to foster interest in the subject at UConn. Through demonstrations, outreach, tutoring and social events, the club reminds people that although it can seem difficult to understand, chemistry is cool.

“We try to welcome new chemistry majors and help them talk with their professors,” says Gugliotti. “To new students, we’re less scary than the professors can be.”

Liquid nitrogen billows from a tank, getting ready to make ice cream.

Liquid nitrogen billows from a tank, getting ready to make ice cream.

The ice cream exploit was just one in a series of demonstrations meant to grab people’s interest in celebration of National Chemistry Week. Since 2011 was also declared the International Year of Chemistry by the United Nations General Assembly, the students wanted to put on a particularly good show.Edward Neth, lecturer in the chemistry department and adviser to the club, says he’s immensely enjoyed getting to know the club’s officers and working with them over the past year.

“It’s a chance to give back to students – and to the chemistry profession – what was given to me when I was an undergraduate,” he says.

The club is perhaps most famous on campus for its comically named Nerd Herd. A subgroup of the club, the Nerd Herd is made up of upper-classmen offering free tutoring to students enrolled in general chemistry, biochemistry and organic chemistry.

“It’s a good feeling when we see students come in and have positive reaction from them,” Gugliotti says. He recalls one student who was struggling but came to their sessions almost every week, and ended up with an A in his class.

Carmichael Gugliotti and Nick Penrose are the president and minister of information for UConn’s Chemistry Club. Photography by Chemistry Club.

Carmichael Gugliotti and Nick Penrose are the president and minister of information for UConn’s Chemistry Club.
Photography by Chemistry Club.

“We see a lot of students who are majoring in the other sciences, not just chemistry,” says Nick Penrose, the club’s minister of information.

Penrose and Gugliotti met during their first year, when they were in the same general chemistry course. Now they both work part-time at the Rocky Hill branch of Henkel, an international chemical company that specializes in adhesives.

“I always liked polymer chemistry, and the applied side of the field,” says Penrose. “They’re giving us a year’s worth of valuable work experience, which is really great.”

The club organizes yearly field trips for chemistry majors to local companies, like Henkel, that employ chemists. Students get the chance to meet chemists working in industry and learn about the skills necessary to find jobs. With department head Amy Howell, the club has also organized sessions on resume writing and cover letter writing, a skill that Gugliotti found especially valuable.

“I had absolutely no idea how to write a cover letter,” he laughs.

In August 2012, Gugliotti will travel with the club’s next president, Eric Commendatore, to Philadelphia, PA for a national American Chemical Society meeting. There, the club will receive an honorable mention award from the society for their work on campus.

Although it’s nice to be recognized by the national organization, Gugliotti and Penrose say the club also means a lot to them on a personal level.

“Chem majors get narrowed down after awhile, and we spend pretty much all day together,” says Gugliotti. “The club is fun, and we’ve made some really good friends. It’s a nice way to be with people who are into the same stuff as you are.”


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