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Teaching Moment: Juniata Chemist to Talk on Physical Chemistry Education

(Posted November 26, 2012)

Paul Schettler, professor of chemistry

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Paul Schettler, professor of chemistry at Juniata College, will speak on how colleges and universities should teach physical chemistry in the coming decades. His talk, "Physical Chemistry: Bridge or Tar Pit?" is at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 4 in Neff Lecture Hall in the von Liebig Center for Science.

The lecture is free and open to the public. The talk is one of a series of Bookend Lectures held once a month throughout the academic year by Juniata faculty.

Schettler has taught physical chemistry at Juniata since 1967 and has always thought of the introductory physical chemistry course as providing students "powerful intellectual tools which provide for a quantitative understanding of the molecular basis within a wide variety of scientific fields."

Schettler will explain how these physical chemistry tools can be viewed as intellectual bridges between such fields as organic and inorganic chemistry, material science, geology, environmental science, and molecular biology. As research and knowledge in all these fields have expanded over the past 20 years it has become imperative for professors to decide what physical chemistry principles and tools should be included in an introductory-level course.

Schettler hopes to use his lecture as the beginning of a dialogue between faculty and science students to see how physical chemistry courses can help prepare students for the "new chemistry of 2030 and beyond." "A fundamental issue is for me the fact that intellectual tools are like seeds, ones which can sprout and even flower in the creative mind," Schettler explains. "Today's students will be in mid-career and immersed in a molecular science that has already evolved dramatically from the one we know, so this has implications far beyond the courses I currently teach."

Schettler has always thought of the introductory physical chemistry course as providing students "powerful intellectual tools which provide for a quantitative understanding of the molecular basis within a wide variety of scientific fields."

Schettler joined the Juniata faculty in 1967 and received the Beachley Distinguished Professor Award in 1978 for the quality of his teaching at Juniata and, in 1995, he received the Beachley Award for Distinguished Academic Service.

He earned a bachelor's degree in physical chemistry in 1958 from the University of Utah and went on to earn a doctorate in 1964 from Yale University. He served a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Utah and Yale and worked at a teaching internship at Antioch College for the 1966-1967 academic year.

Throughout his teaching career, Schettler has pursued additional study and research, at Texas A & M University and the University and Polytechnic Federation of Lille, France.

His research currently focuses on theoretical physical chemistry and gas chromatography. In the 1970s and 1980s, he focused much of his research on the exploitation of natural gas reserves of shale. His gas research was funded by such companies the Gas Research Institute, Columbia Gas Corporation, Terra Tek Corporation and the U.S. Department of Energy, totaling more than $1.1 million.

He is the inventor of several patented gas measuring devices, and author of numerous articles in such publications as the Journal of Physical Chemistry, Journal of the American Chemical Society, Journal of Chemical Education and reports presented to such organizations as the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and the Energy Research and Development Administration.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.