Good Chemistry It isn’t easy explaining organic chemistry in terms students understand. But that’s a piece of cake for Brian Love, a fun-loving professor with an unique sense of humor. “If we were making cars instead of molecules,” he says, “we’d be building the drill presses and lathes to make the parts.” It’s not surprising that Love uses cars in his analogy because his hobby is maintaining his classic ’74 Camaro that’s often parked near the Sci-Tech building.
By Leanne E. Smith Brian Love says most of the problems his students confront involve mixing materials, identifying variables and predicting what will happen in the ensuing chemical reaction. “We don’t have to study that sugar makes tea sweet,” he explains. Students just need to know that A+B=C. “We learn by doing and remembering.” However he explains it, Love says he knows he’s reached students when their facial expressions change from “What?” to “Now I get it!” Then he knows “they can solve a problem they couldn’t before.” Even some colleagues don’t fully understand Love’s specialty: organic synthesis and synthetic methodology. To those who say “all you’re doing is cooking” in his field of study, Love responds with the ever-present twinkle in his eye: “So? How do you eat? Someone has to make the molecules, so it’s not an insult to be accused of cooking.” As for culinary preferences, he loves desserts. That’s why there’s a Periodic Table of Desserts poster in his office peeking through hanging storage for his molecular models. It’s
stylish efficiency: suspend the models from the ceiling and they don’t get tangled in a box. He says, “It’s quirky. It’s chemical. I just pluck them down when I need them for class.” Love has taught at East Carolina since 1994. He received his undergraduate degree from Texas Christian University in 1980. He received his doctorate from Princeton in 1986, completed his postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA the following year, and taught at Auburn University before settling in Greenville. He chose teaching as a career almost as an afterthought. “There was no big aha moment,” he says. In college he had many good teachers and some bad ones. He observed his professors’ lifestyles and thought, “I could do this.” Besides, teaching sounded better than company lab work, plus he likes “explaining stuff to people, not having to wear a suit to work, and picking my own projects.”
Andrew Morehead, director of graduate studies, says Love is “a wonderful colleague and mentor to the young faculty. He tirelessly serves the department and students, but what I enjoy most about him is his sneaky sense of humor. As his many lucky students can attest, Brian’s dry wit and puns can enliven the driest of subjects—and fortunately for his colleagues, meetings.” Students don’t forget his influence. Love’s first thesis advisee, James Wynne ’94 ’96, now is senior research chemist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and a professor at George Mason University. As a professor Wynne says he tries to pass on Love’s “immense passion for organic chemistry and immeasurable patience with new researchers.” He recalls a time when Love captured the imagination of the class by letting students create esters, or fragrances, and try to identify the starting ingredients. He says, “I still practice Dr. Love’s perfected technique of glassware cleaning—no bubbles allowed in the base bath!” 29
Published on May 8, 2009