Griffitts donates funds to benefit MC chemistry lab

Nearly 40 years after her husband retired from teaching chemistry, Ruby Miller Griffitts is still interested in the goings on of the science laboratories at Maryville College.

Admittedly, she doesn’t understand equipment more complex than her 50-year-old kitchen stove, but she does understand the importance of today’s students having access to up-to-date instrumentation, computer interfacing and laboratory electronics.

Last fall, Griffitts decided to donate money to her alma mater for the purchase of a Griffin 300™ Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer (GC/MS). On March 24, the 96-year-old visited Sutton Science Center to see the instrument and meet the students enrolled in CHM365: Instrumental Methods, who are using it.

“It’s a cute little thing,” she said as she eyed the white and royal-blue trimmed GC/MS and connected laptop computer. “But don’t ask me any questions about it.”

A plaque recognizing the instrument as a memorial to Dr. Fred A. Griffitts , professor of chemistry from 1925 until 1969, is attached to the side of the instrument.

Entertaining the students with the story of how she met her husband on the MC campus, Griffitts told them that Dr. Griffitts held students to very high standards and she knew chemistry was still a strong academic program at the college.

“I knew that this addition [of the GC/MS] was going to mean a lot to the students and a lot to the college,” she said to the students. “And I knew that this purchase was going to help the college achieve a better reputation. Maryville College has always had a good reputation, but this should raise it even more.”

Dr. Terry Bunde, professor of chemistry and instructor of the CHM365 course, couldn’t agree more with Griffitts’ prediction. Responding to the alumna’s desire to help students, Bunde said his undergraduate students will benefit immensely by the addition of the GC/MS in the lab.

“It is important for those students who plan to continue their education after MC to have the opportunity to use modern, computer-interfaced instruments that will give them the confidence and skills to use more sophisticated, research-grade instruments after they leave MC,” he said. “For those students who will enter the work force as bench chemists, experience using up-to-date instruments and software is crucial to their obtaining the first position in a lab. Skills operating one instrument are easily transferable to a different instrument made by a different manufacturer, but students have to have the confidence in their abilities to do that.

“We introduce teaching instrumental methods and basic computer interfaced software for data acquisition in the introductory chemistry courses and build on those skills and methods during the entire laboratory curriculum, culminating in the independent research project as part of the senior study in chemistry,” he said. “The students advance to a point where they decide how to use instrumental methods to solve their own problems.”

The new GC/MS is essential for ACS certification. “About 20 years ago the American Chemical Society began to recommend which instruments should be found in certified undergraduate chemistry programs, and the GC/MS was listed then,” Bunde said, explaining that in recent years, students have been using a GC/MS built from the components of two older instruments donated by alumni Snell Mills and Ed Bush. “It is listed as an ‘essential’ instrument on the American Chemical Society’s Committee for Professional Training (CPT) guidelines list.”

Bunde said the right pieces have been falling into place to make an application for CPT certification from the American Chemical Society very strong. The addition of a new chemistry professor next fall will give the Natural Sciences Division expertise in four areas: physical chemistry, organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, biochemistry.

As for instrumentation, Bunde said a few more are on the new guidelines list, but the department has made important strides.

Bunde expects the Griffin 300™ to be used routinely in sophomore organic classes and by senior study students.

“The reliability and cheaper operating costs will open the door to new areas for senior study students in chemistry, such as environmental trace chemical analysis, confirmation, identification of organic synthesis products, and many, many more,” he added.

Considering the numerous donations of time, equipment and money by science alumni in recent years, Bunde said former graduates have had “a tremendous effect on the program.”

Referring to the visit by Griffitts, Bunde said students really enjoyed meeting her and are still talking about that day in the lab. “I think it is a wonderful idea that donors get to meet the students who are most affected by their gifts,” the professor said. “They see that we are not seeking money for money’s sake but that gifts have real, tangible effects on the program and the students in the program right after the gift is used to purchase equipment like the new Griffin GC/MS.

“I visit with Ruby often to tell her about the students and the program and how our program has maintained the same student-faculty interactions she remembers from Dr. Griffitts’ time at MC,” he said. “She got to see this firsthand when she came to the campus.”

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