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George C. Pimentel Award In Chemical Education

Sponsored by Cengage Publishing and ACS

by Arlene Goldberg-Gist
January 18, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 3

Credit: Labeeba Hameed
Credit: Labeeba Hameed

“Zafra’s two missions in life—chemical education and scientific freedom and human rights—really boil down to one: the desire to allow everyone to achieve their potential.” This testimonial from Amber S. Hinkle, chair of the ACS Women Chemists Committee and Bayer MaterialScience quality lead for plastics manufacturing, succinctly sums up why Zafra J. Lerman is being honored with this award.

A native of Israel, Lerman received both B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees from Technion—Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa. In 1969, she received a Ph.D. in chemistry from Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot. As a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University, she conducted research in isotope effects, which she continued at Northwestern University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich.

Lerman is head of Columbia College Chicago’s Institute for Science Education & Science Communication, which she established in 1991. She is a bridge builder on many levels. In 1973, she came to Columbia College, an arts and media-oriented school, to establish a science department. She has developed wide-ranging and innovative approaches to teaching science to nonscience majors, for which she has received numerous awards and national and international recognition.

One of her students was Fred Pienkos, who says: “When I think about college, my thoughts go immediately to Zafra and the integral role she played in my education and my life.” He was taking her class called “Ozone to Oil Spills.” To make the subject accessible to her students, Lerman encouraged them apply their creative backgrounds to environmental science. “I was studying animation and photography, so partnering with a classmate, I created a five-minute animated short film about global warming,” Pienkos says. “The film won some recognition from the school, and Zafra arranged for me to fly with her to Princeton to screen the work and talk about it with an environmental science class there. At the time, I knew it was a unique opportunity, but now, nearly 20 years later, I marvel at Zafra’s commitment to my education.” Pienkos is now a visual effects supervisor with Eden FX, in Hollywood, Calif. He has won one Emmy Award and received five nominations.

Inspired by Lerman’s teaching, other students have gone on to earn graduate degrees in science, as well as the arts and media.

Lerman is also the force behind the grant money given for her programs and curriculum development, including a grant to take several minority students to Ken­ya in 2002, where she gave science lectures. Labeeba Hameed, one of those students who is currently working on a graduate degree in art education, says Lerman “gives students once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”

In parallel with her role as an educator, Lerman’s role as a bridge builder in human rights cannot be overlooked. When she was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2001, her citation read: “For extraordinary innovations in education, especially for nonscientists and the underprivileged, and for truly exceptional success in defending persecuted scientists throughout the world.”

Lerman will present the award address before the Division of Chemical Education.


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