300 Words


Notes from a Davidson classroom

By John Syme

Wednesday morning, late March. Martin Science Building Room 327 fills nearly to capacity as class time approaches. One student’s T-shirt reads, “Stand back, I’m going to try science.”

At the stroke of 11:30 a.m., new Assistant Professor of Chemistry Nicole Snyder strides in with a focused confidence to match the mood of her students. She rustles through the room with a grocery bag: plastic “spring eggs” with chocolate inside!

The classroom’s side walls hold a periodic table and a chalkboard, the front a dry-erase board and projection screen. A cartoon toenail fungus, Digger the Dermatophyte, appears to introduce today’s topic in “Immunology and Immunopharmacology”: fungal infections!

First, a few words about an upcoming exam to establish Honor Code bona fides: No time limit, but no collaboration on this one, and handwritten answers.

Back to Digger and his lessons on the molecular chain structures of antifungals such as amphotericin, imidazoles, traizoles, allylamines…

Most academic disciplines have their own jargon, others even more specific dialects. Chemistry has its very own language, complete with universal etymological conventions and foundational chalkboard diagramming. Snyder’s overall fluency, clarity and momentum render both the form and the content of her subject immanently accessible.

“Okay, enough gross pictures of fungal infections before lunch,” she says brightly, without breaking stride.

On to parasites and malaria [mal + aria = bad air]. A five-foot mosquito vector appears onscreen to introduce the five species of Plasmodium that cause the disease. At the turn of the last century, Snyder says, scientific inquiry that led to humankind’s understanding of that particular pathogenesis made possible The Panama Canal.

At the turn of this century, what will scientific inquiry in Martin Room 327 ultimately yield? As the T-shirt says, “Stand back…”


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