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Haverford College

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Associate Professor of Chemistry Alexander Norquist (right) with summer research assistant Sam Blau '12, who was a co-author, with another student, on a paper Norquist published.
Associate Professor of Chemistry Alexander Norquist (right) with summer research assistant Sam Blau '12, who was a co-author, with another student, on a paper Norquist published.

Prizing Both Teaching and Research

One of the things that drew Alexander Norquist to Haverford, he says, was the way the College emphasizes teaching along with research and allows its professors to strike a balance between the two. Now in his eighth year at Haverford, Norquist has achieved his own balancing act as an educator and scholar, and much more.

Norquist, 36, an Associate Professor of Chemistry, has received the 2010 Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award for faculty who are accomplished teachers and researchers.  The award, given to six recipients this year, provides a $60,000 unrestricted research grant to faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions around the country.

“It’s nice because it really speaks to what we do here – it emphasizes teaching and research,” says Norquist.

Norquist says he plans to spend the money mainly on summer research stipends for students, consumable materials and some research equipment.  The research to be funded by the award, he says, will have an impact on his teaching by enabling him to bring the techniques he uses into the classroom.

A “solid-state chemist,” Norquist’s interests lie in creating new solids that exhibit interesting and useful physical properties.  Specifically, his work involves materials with a series of related properties:  piezoelectricity, which refers to the ability of some materials to generate an electrical potential in response to being squeezed, or to physically expand or shrink when placed in the presence of an electrical potential; ferroelectricity, which is a reversible polarization caused by an external electric field; and second harmonic generation, which refers to the transformation of the color of light.

Norquist is highly adept at developing novel approaches to both teaching and research, and integrating the two areas to benefit students as well as the field of chemistry, says Terry Newirth, chair of Haverford’s chemistry department.  Newirth notes, for example, that Norquist developed a creative new way of teaching introductory chemistry courses, which will better address new standards for American Chemical Society certification and new medical school competencies.  “His ideas have led to a new introductory chemistry curriculum that we launched this year with the class of 2014,” she says.

Norquist has closely mentored 24 students, including seniors working on their thesis project, students involved in summer research, as well as several who have worked in his lab as underclassmen for credit during the academic year, Newirth says. Of Norquist’s 17 research students who have graduated, seven have gone to chemistry or chemical engineering graduate school, and three to medical school.

In addition to being an inspiring teacher, “Norquist’s scholarship has been outstanding,” says Newirth.  His research has led to has led to 16  publications in peer-reviewed journals, on which 15 different undergraduates appear as co-authors.  Norquist’s work has also been continuously funded by competitive grants, including the Henry and Camille Dreyfus Foundation Faculty Start-up Award for Undergraduate Institutions, funding from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, and a National Science Foundation Research in Undergraduate Institutions grant.

Established in 1946, the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation is a leading non-profit organization devoted to the advancement of the chemical sciences.  Norquist’s fellow Teacher-Scholar Award recipients hail from Amherst College, the College of William and Mary, Colby College, Chapman University and the University of Richmond.

--Samantha Drake

Founders Green on a warm spring day.

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