Remembering Alan MacDiarmid | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 14 | p. 6 | Letters
Issue Date: April 2, 2007

Remembering Alan MacDiarmid

Department: Letters

I would just like to pass on some brief thoughts and remembrances of Alan MacDiarmid (C&EN, Feb. 12, page 16). I was one of his graduate students from 1987 to 1992 working on conducting polymers. While many others have written of his superhuman energy, his vast chemical knowledge, and his incredible drive to succeed, I would like to describe some of the other gifts that he shared with his grad students at the University of Pennsylvania.

MacDiarmid taught his students how to prepare presentations. He stressed that being able to present your work is as important as the quality of the work itself. Long before there was Microsoft PowerPoint, there was the handwritten overhead transparency; Alan was the master of this medium. He would lay out all his transparencies in the hallway (more than 20 feet long), then walk up and down the hall changing the order of the slides until his presentation flowed the way he felt it should.

MacDiarmid also showed us how to multitask. We used to have off-site group meetings about six hours outside of Philadelphia. On the drive out, MacDiarmid would review each person's presentation with them. We would take turns sitting in the passenger seat ("the hot seat") while MacDiarmid would drive the van, drink coffee, smoke a cigarette, and hold a transparency in front of the windshield so that he could read it and ask questions about it. Most of us would need four or five arms for such a feat; he acted as if this were a typical Sunday drive in the country.

Finally, I have learned to appreciate the wisdom in his frequently used catchphrases. He implored us to try harder and "always do more than you are asked to do." He told us repeatedly, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." And, we also learned, "You can't do research on a desert island"—that is, he understood the value of brainstorming with others before that term even came into common use.

I will never forget Dr. MacDiarmid. There is not a day that goes by that I do not use the skills and life lessons that he instilled in me.

Elliot M. Scherr
Princeton, N.J.

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