Chemistry department hosts weekly seminar series

At 3:15 p.m. every Friday, about 200 people pack into room 107 in Science Building One to watch that week’s one-hour lecture as part of the chemistry department’s seminar series.

The Portland State chemistry department has been hosting these seminar speakers for decades.

“Inviting speakers from other chemistry departments across the country, and even world-wide, is one of the ways in which we chemists share our results with peers,” said Dr. Tami Clare, an assistant professor of chemistry at PSU who helped run the lecture series last year.

Dr. Dave Stuart, the assistant professor of chemistry who is in charge of planning the series this year, added that it’s also a great way to learn about research going on in the scientific community.

“It’s just a way for the students to become aware of current research areas and the most cutting edge research in their respective fields,” Stuart said.

Each Friday during fall, winter and spring terms, a different speaker is chosen to present their research to students and faculty. Aside from speakers being brought in from outside of PSU, master’s students and Ph.D. students within the university are able to present their own research or discuss an area of research they’re interested in.

This upcoming week, Clary Clish from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard will be speaking on metabolic profiling of human disease and model systems. The talks can be
somewhat technical and hard to understand for someone who’s not in a scientific field, but non-chemistry students and the general public are welcome to attend.

“Non-chemistry students would get a sense of the sorts of research that takes place in chemistry today,” Clare said. “Speakers this term will be talking about metabolic profiling of human diseases, the use of an optoelectronic nose used to sniff out low amounts of chemicals and new materials for x-ray contrast agents, computer processors and bio-sensors (a tool used to detect or observe chemicals in a material).”

Stuart pointed out that the series is a good way for people to familiarize themselves with new advances in chemical research. He also mentioned that although chemistry is often associated with negative environmental impact, the field is making strides in a more positive direction.

“There’s really a lot of research going on, both in our department and in other departments that are working towards minimizing pollution [and] detecting various pollutants in the air and developing procedures that are more environmentally friendly,” Stuart said “Then there’s the whole biology side looking into the benefits of how chemical research can lead to better drugs.”

The seminars also give students a chance to connect to scientists with similar interests in the hopes of working with those researchers to gain vital research experience.

“I know it makes a real difference to some students’ academic careers,” said Dr. Erik Johansson, another PSU assistant professor of chemistry who worked on the series last year.

Last year, a chemistry department undergraduate student met with one of the visiting speakers and is now working in that professor’s lab as a graduate student. Currently, that student is working with one of the big researchers in semiconductor surface chemistry, and it’s all because they gave up an hour on a Friday afternoon.

“The department seminar series provides opportunities to start and foster collaborations,” Johansson said. “It stimulates researchers to think about problems in new and exciting ways. I could go on and on here; the benefits are numerous.”
The idea of looking at things in new ways is something Johansson and Stuart both said are important.

“It’s so easy to get bogged down into the particulars of what you’re looking at for your thesis or something like that,” said Stuart. “And [these seminars are] a way to broaden your horizon in terms of other things going on in the industry.”
For a full list of this term’s lectures, visit