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Memories of SSU

Donald D. Marshall

Faculty, Department of Chemistry, 1966-2001
Department Chair, 1979-1991

Professor Don Marshall in full costume at his Chemistry M*A*G*I*C Show

Professor Don Marshall in full costume at his Chemistry M*A*G*I*C Show

The Chemistry Department – The Early Years

B.D. (Before Darwin)

             One of the first chemistry faculty members hired was Harvey Averbock who received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in organic chemistry. Professor Rapport described him as “…the brightest student he had ever had.”  Another early faculty member was Jim Malik, who was a colleague of our first president, Amby Nichols, when they were at San Diego State. Jim was at SSC long enough to get promoted to full professor, then later returned to San Diego State.

            In 1965 Duncan Poland, Bob Holmes and Gene Schaumberg were hired. Duncan Poland, who received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry, taught in both chemistry and physics departments. The next year, he was full time in the physics department. Bob Holmes received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry. Gene Schaumberg received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry.

            The chemistry laboratory was located on the second floor of a building originally built as an apartment building. The laboratory left much to be desired. There was a paucity of glassware, which caused the new assistant professors to complain to the Natural Science Division Chair.  Because the building wasn’t built to house a chemistry lab, the floor sagged. When there was a water leak or spill, it ran down to the division chair’s office. Don’t mess with chemists! Fortunately, we got moved to a new lab in Darwin Hall.

D.D. (During Darwin) – The Early Years

            During the first five years after we moved to the permanent campus, seven new   Assistant Professors were hired. In 1966, I came after receiving a Ph.D. in analytical and inorganic chemistry, having taught at Southern Oregon College for one year.  In 1967, Marv Kientz came, with a Ph.D. in biochemistry. In 1968, Les Brooks arrived, with his Ph.D. in theoretical physical chemistry and computer programming. In 1969, we had an increase of three new faculty members. Doug Rustad received his Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry.  Vin Hoagland received a Ph.D. in biochemistry and did a post-doc at the University of Washington. Dale Trowbridge came while finishing writing a Ph.D. thesis in organic chemistry. In 1970, the last professor hired was Dave Eck, who received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry and did a post-doc at UC Santa Cruz. In 1970, Amby Nichols retired as President of the University and joined the faculty as a professor in physical chemistry. When we moved into Darwin, Don Rawhouser, a retired Army Major, was our stockroom manager. He had strong organizational skills, but no chemistry training. Subsequently, Mike Tatro replaced him. Later we added Vic Reindahl as our electronic/instrument person. Both had worked at Chevron Research.

            The architect who designed Darwin Hall had never done a building containing chemistry laboratories. When we moved into Darwin, the laboratories needed to be redesigned. Fortunately, Professor Holmes had exceptional skills in this area and the laboratories were redesigned. 

            We introduced new chemistry courses during our early years, as well as updating the existing courses. One of the strengths of our laboratory courses was the “hands on” approach. Our students ran instrumentation that was unavailable to many students at the larger research universities. We had a vigorous undergraduate research program, particularly under Professors Rustad, Schaumberg, Eck and Trowbridge. Our students usually gave the best presentations at the ACS Undergraduate Research Symposiums and the Association of North Bay Scientist meetings. We had two levels of Physical Chemistry classes, one for our BA students and one for our BS students. With our strong core chemistry classes along with the Advanced Analytical, Advanced Inorganic, Advanced Organic lecture and laboratory classes, Biochemistry classes and an Environmental course, we had varied numbers of courses, which enabled us to get American Chemistry Accreditation for our Bachelor of Science degree. We were the first department on campus to get national accreditation, which was a major step toward getting University status.

            Our graduates were successful in getting into many prestigious graduate schools, including UC Berkeley, Stanford, Cal Tech, Harvard, John Hopkins, Purdue and others. At one time we had five students simultaneously working for the Ph.D. degree in chemistry at UC Davis. Our chemistry graduates, along with the biology graduates, had one of the highest percentages of acceptance into medical and other health professional schools. The advisor to the pre-health club was Professor Hoagland. Many of our chemistry graduates were hired in the chemical industry, which ranged from Chevron Research to local analytical laboratories and wineries.

            Other majors were not ignored. The Chemistry 102 (Chemistry and Society) courses were very popular. This course offered chemistry topics that were helpful for students, such as toxicology, drugs and consumer related areas. The other Chemistry 102 (Introduction to Wine Chemistry) was team taught with a local enologist.

            Besides the substantial initial complement of instruments and supplies that came in those years with a new building, we were very good at getting surplus equipment and supplies from a multitude of sources, which included the Lawrence Livermore Labs.

            Besides the number of Chemistry Club parties that were held at the homes of various chemistry faculty members, we also had two successful annual events with our alumni---a restaurant dinner and spring picnic.  We invited our graduating seniors so they could meet our alumni. The cost of the Chemistry Club parties, the cost for the graduating seniors at the restaurant and the cost of the spring picnic were paid for by the highly successful Third Floor Darwin Coffee refluxed and filtered by the non-coffee-drinker Professor Marshall.

Science Night and the Chemistry M*A*G*I*C Show

            When I came to Sonoma State College in the fall semester of 1966, the other two assistant professors of chemistry and I moved into the brand new Darwin Hall. Either that year or the next year, the late Bob Holmes approached me and asked if I would help him put on a Science Day program similar to one he was familiar with from graduate school.

            The format of the program was to invite high school students from our service area to visit Darwin Hall on a Wednesday or Thursday evening to see demonstrations put on by the Natural Science Division faculty. The faculty could either have a continuous demonstration or have demonstrations at scheduled times. The program ran from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

            At 8:30 p.m., I arranged to have cookies and punch available. This aspect of the program was a great deal of work, and at 8:30 p.m. practically all the students came to the refreshments and ignored the demonstrations. After a few years, I decided to stop serving refreshments. The demonstrations were enough of a treat. After one or two years, I somehow became the permanent chair of the committee. We also changed the name to Science Night for obvious reasons.

            Each year, in addition to organizing Science Night (which included some unfortunate parking problems with the University Police Chief), I also put on chemistry demonstrations on the third floor of Darwin Hall. I soon organized the “Almost Safe Chemistry Magic Show”, which was performed in Darwin 108 at 7:00, 7:30, 8:00 and 8:30 p.m. My wife made me a wizard costume complete with a pointy hat, which I wore in the shows. For most of the shows we filled old Darwin 108 and had many standing in the back and in the aisles. The magic show ran for twenty years or so, and I had my colleague, Professor Doug Rustad, help me with many of the performances. There were usually two other helpers who were either students and/or staff. A tape of the show was put in the time capsule that is buried near the duck pond. Science Night ended in the early nineties.

            I started a High School Chemistry Magic Show at Rancho Cotati High School in the early seventies. The purpose of the shows was to recruit students to become chemistry majors, preferably at Sonoma State University. I performed the Chemistry Magic show (usually for two high school periods) in schools that ranged from Fort Bragg High School and Geyserville High School in the north, to Marin County High Schools in the south. Most of the time was spent in Sonoma County. I ended each show with my infamous Thermite reaction. One time while at Petaluma high school, a piece of hot iron from the thermite landed on a box of blackboard erasers and caught on fire. However, most of the time it was safe enough. I still go to Elsie Allen High School each year.

            I still get calls to do the Chemistry Magic Show at the University. I guess people enjoy explosions, color changes and bad chemistry jokes as much as I do.