April 26, 2018

Murphy Award: Mark Lipton

Mark Lipton Murphy Award Mark Lipton, associate professor of organic chemistry and chemical biology in the Department of Chemistry. (Purdue University photo/ Kelsey Schnieders Lefever) Download image

Five exceptional teachers have been selected as recipients of the 2018 Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in Memory of Charles B. Murphy. This Q&A focuses on Mark Lipton, associate professor of organic chemistry and chemical biology in the Department of Chemistry.

Years at Purdue: 28.

Teaching interests: Subjects that span organic chemistry, biochemistry and medicinal chemistry and have to do with the action of small molecules in biological systems.

On redesigning an organic chemistry course to improve student interest and learning: My impetus for the course redesign was the observation that far too many students were approaching my subject area (organic chemistry) with the attitude that they would have to memorize everything. I asked myself why students would have to do this when, from my perspective, organic chemistry was the most predictable and rule-based discipline in all of chemistry. Once I'd made that decision, I began to look at what I considered the barriers to students' perception of the organization of the subject matter and to redesign the class to emphasize more explicitly those organizational principles.

On the textbook he created through LibreText: My redesigned course was organized in a way that didn't comport with the
organization of any textbook on the market. Rather than adopt a text that we'd have to jump back and forth through, I decided to use the emerging technology of Wiki texts. I was also motivated to adopt this approach through the observation that students were increasingly turning not to textbooks but to the Internet when they had questions. Rather than having them rely on an uncurated information source (Wikipedia) I decided to create a curated resource on the Web.

On “Have Coffee with the Professor”: At a large institution such as Purdue, it is often rare for students to have one-on-one contact with the faculty. Since I teach chemistry majors, they often have questions about what it is like to pursue the subject in graduate school and beyond. Because I've also worked in industry, I can also offer insight into those opportunities.

What Lipton wants students to take away from his classes: I want them to realize that my subject (organic chemistry) isn't
esoteric or unconnected to the world at large, but rather a subject that we encounter every day. I also want them to realize that it isn't an unwieldy thicket of unconnected facts, but rather a seamless tapestry of information that is broadly interconnected.

On being involved in competitions, organizations, study abroad and more outside the regular curriculum: When I was an undergraduate, and later in industry and graduate school, many people mentored me in various ways. I am simply paying it forward, doing the same for new generations of undergraduates and graduate students.

How Lipton’s interaction with students is rewarding: Every student of organic chemistry has an "aha" moment when it all comes together and they suddenly see that those various unconnected facts are in fact connected. It is incredibly satisfying to help promote that process in students.

What his students say: This course is excellent. I was nervous about organic chemistry, but it made me love the subject. … Dr. Lipton’s lectures were easy to follow and he is a very easy-to-approach guy. … I am excited about the field of chemistry now. … I think it gave me a feel for what graduate research might be like and convinced me that that is what I want to do with my life.

Writer: Kelsey Schnieders Lefever, kschnied@purdue.edu

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