Elements of Fun Love of research keeps fire burning for chemistry professor Jean’ne Shreeve By Tara Roberts
The chemistry program of The best of chemist Jean’ne Shreeve’s early years was larger Shreeve’s days can be summed than it is now, though much in a word: fun. less technologically advanced. Shreeve has designed rocket When she first came to camfuels, experimented with the pus, the department had only most reactive element on one tool — an unreliable infraEarth and taught hundreds of red spectrometer. students during her 53 years Shreeve drove every weekwith the University of Idaho end to the University of WashDepartment of Chemistry. ington in Seattle, where she’d She’s legendary for toiling received her doctorate, to use in her lab at all hours of the other equipment. day and night conducting her Jean’ne Shreeve keeps pushing the boundaries of chemistry at UI. Shreeve chaired the chemresearch. istry department for 14 years “My feeling is we only do after Renfrew’s retirement and served as the university’s things because it’s fun,” says Shreeve, one of just a handful vice president for research for 12 years. She sat on the of University Distinguished Professors. board of directors for the American Chemical Society and The delight Shreeve takes in her research is one reaAmerican Association for the Advancement of Science, son for her longevity at the university. She also credits the and spent more than 25 years as Idaho’s project director boss who hired her in 1961 and visited with her daily, even for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive years after his retirement: Malcolm Renfrew, professor Research, or EPSCoR. She remains involved with EPSCoR emeritus of chemistry. and speaks about her research around the world. For decades, Renfrew would stop by Shreeve’s office She’s kept her lab running all the while, producing more every day to ask, “What have you done since yesterday?” than 500 publications. She’s been known to spend up to “I had the world’s best boss,” she says. 80 hours a week on her research. Shreeve arrived at UI for a one-semester appointment. “I never left research," Shreeve says. "I never left. It was When a faculty position opened, Renfrew offered and just natural to come back to it full time.” Shreeve accepted. For much of her career, Shreeve’s research focused on Shreeve says Renfrew’s connections helped launch her synthesizing compounds with fluorine, an extremely reacin the chemistry world, and his support made her research tive element that can be used in rocket fuel oxidizers. possible. When she approached him with new ideas, he While her heart still lies with fluorine, she’s shifted focus always encouraged her enthusiastically. “Just because it in recent years. Her interest in energetic materials — subhadn’t been done before — why couldn’t it be done? Why stances that contain high levels of stored chemical energy couldn’t we do it here?,” she’d ask rhetorically. 26
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