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Brad Chamberlain

Associate professor of chemistry

First year teaching at Luther: 2001

Trove of trivia: Knows a lot about American consumption of conventional petroleum-based plastics (because his research facilitates biodegradable alternatives made from corn starch).

By most counts, Brad is the quintessential science geek. He has molecule models on his desk. When he was a postdoctoral student in upstate New York, he never once got out of the lab to visit the Big Apple itself. Now he spends most summers directing lab work with students on campus.

And he keeps odd research-grant-supporting stats on the tip of his tongue, like the number of BTUs that plastics made from corn (his research interest) could eliminate from the global energy budget annually by 2020 (192 trillion).

But Brad is part "'This Old House' kind of guy," too, and he enjoys renovating and restoring his Tudor-style house in Decorah with his wife, Julie (Torkelson) Chamberlain '96, and family.

There's something exciting about working with and enhancing the natural properties of things, in an old house or in the laboratory, Brad says--and he treats students as colleagues in the pursuit of innovation.

"It's exhilarating to get to the point where students aren't deterred by the fact that 95 percent of things you attempt in lab will fail," Brad says, admitting that he himself has caused three (small) lab fires in his career. "It's not something the students have done wrong--that's just the way things behave. Once students get to that point and beyond, they're poised to succeed in research enterprise."

In the last two years, student researchers working with Brad have presented papers at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research and the American Chemical Society national convention. Ongoing projects are funded by the National Science Foundation, the Iowa Energy Center, and the Grow Iowa Values Fund.

Brad is also chair of Luther's academic planning committee, the group orchestrating campuswide curriculum redefinition starting in Fall 2007. Its goals are to increase interdisciplinary study and give students and faculty more time to learn from each other outside standard classroom exercises.

"Our faculty have interdisciplinary experience that defines the idea of liberal arts education," Brad explains. "In the new curriculum, for example, a course on the philosophy of science will fulfill a natural science requirement.