Can Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance be a pathway to learning chemistry? Professor Mark Schoenfisch, winner of the Chapman Family Teaching Award, uses it to show students what it means to “question things” and “experiencing life to the fullest by thinking.”
Welcome to the IAH Podcast, a series from the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Chapman award includes a semester in the IAH Faculty Fellows Program. In an interview with IAH Faculty Programs Coordinator Philip Hollingsworth, Schoenfisch discusses his desire to grow excitement around chemistry in undergraduates after his own inspiring research experience.
“I kind of like to pay it forward because without that experience, I would have never pursued my career path; and so even if we can touch two or three undergraduates at minimum, they might consider chemistry as a career path after they finish their undergraduate careers,” he says.
“I really think in an introductory class you have to engage the students and show them the big picture as to why chemistry is important and exciting,” Schoenfisch responds.
During his fellowship Fall 2015, Schoenfisch focused on improving introductory chemistry courses for further engagement. This includes mentorship between graduate and undergraduate students.
In his research, he is looking for ways to advance medicine through testing Nitric Oxide (NO) in the body and modernizing of methods to read NO levels by making the process more efficient.
NO is most widely known in physiology for relaxing the muscle cells around veins and capillaries, he explained. He hopes his research would further advances in medical testing.
“We are trying to measure Nitric Oxide in biological solutions and come up with analytic technologies to measure NO better. And so that involves making (its) measurement more selective, more sensitive and faster,” says Schoenfisch.