Chem Class Presents Public Seminar on Climate Change, April 16, 2008

Thomas Guengerich, New Mexico Tech public information office, 835-5617
Dr. Michael Pullin, chemistry professor, 835-6185

SOCORRO, N.M., April 15, 2008 – An upper level chemistry class at New Mexico Tech will present their class projects about climate change in a user-friendly forum Wednesday, April 30, on campus.

After an afternoon of informative presentations, the class will host a special event at Macey Center, featuring entrepreneur and biofuel activist Charris Ford.

Socorro residents may remember Ford from the documentary movie that detailed his biofuel activism, “French Fries To Go,” which was featured at the Rio Film Fest in January. Ford will speak about climate change, biodiesel and global activism at 7 p.m. at Macey Center. Ford’s presentation will include a viewing of the short documentary film, “French Fries To Go” and a talk titled “Biodiesel and Beyond.” His talk is free and open to the public.

Chemistry professor Michael Pullin gave his 22 students the task of researching climate change, then presenting their findings to both the campus and the Socorro community. The event is called “Our Greatest Challenge: A Public Seminar on Climate Change.” The student presentations will be from 1 to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30, in MSEC 103 on campus. The general public is invited. More information on this event is available at a webpage put together by the students in CHEM 422:

“A typical New Mexico Tech student seminar is designed for other college students and professors,” Pullin said. “My idea was to have a seminar that is presented in way that is understandable by the entire community, not just scientists and engineers.”

The 22 students in CHEM 422: Environmental Chemistry divided into eight groups and will offer 20 minute presentations on various climate change-related topics.

“I came up with the starting points and they refined them into areas that they find interesting,” Pullin said.

The topics range from the greenhouse effect to carbon sequestration to alternative fuels. Pullin said he’s impressed with the students’ ability both to research complex materials and to explain their materials in layman’s terms.

“By the time students get to the senior level or graduate level, they’re pretty good at giving technical talks to their peers,” Pullin said. “But they never have to take technical material and present it in a way non-technical people can understand. It’s a very important and useful skill for a scientist or engineering to have.”

The Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at New Mexico Tech must have agreed. Center director Scott Zeman agreed to fund Pullin’s project with $4,000 to stage the seminar.

“The committee felt that Dr. Pullin’s project had a strong interdisciplinary nature and that his proposal was both timely and relative,” Zeman said.

The eight projects and the students are:

  • “The Greenhouse Effect:” Andrea Higdon and Rachel Fry, both senior chemistry majors and Aaron Jenkins, a master’s chemistry student.
  • “The Global Carbon Cycle:” James Craft, a senior environmental science major, Nathanial Martinez, a junior chemistry major, and Matt Earthman, a geochemistry senior.
  • “Global Warming: Are Human Activities Responsible?” Sara Friberg, a biology senior, and Yvette Lopez, a chemistry senior
  • “Recent Evidence of Climate Change:” Adam Mott, a biology master’s student, and Daniel Veghte, a chemical engineering sophomore
  • “Predicted Effects of Climate Change in the American Southwest:” Whitney Defoor, environmental science senior, Josh Feldman, a geology master’s student, and Amy Luther, a doctoral geology student
  • “Carbon Sequestration:” Giovanni Luchetti, a master’s chemistry student, Sophia Sigstedt, an environmental science senior, and Katrina Burleigh, a chemistry senior
  • “Global Environmental Manipulation:” Asitha Thoranga, a doctoral chemistry student, and Jesse Mora, a chemistry junior; and
  • “Alternatives to Fossil Fuels:” Michael Butkus and David Taylor, both chemistry seniors, and Kim Samuels, a master’s geochemistry student.

Pullin said he was impressed with the thought the students put into finding a keynote speaker.

“We went around and around,” he said. “They debated the merits of bringing in a scientist or engineer or a citizen/activist. In the end, they wanted someone who could inspire people in the community to do things that combat climate change themselves.”

Several students in the class saw Ford’s movie, “French Fries To Go,” which chronicles his successful efforts to develop a biodiesel production facility in Telluride, Colo., that creates biodiesel from used vegetable oil from the town’s many restaurants. “He put together a facility to generate biodiesel from used vegetable oil,” Pullin said. “Eventually, he wants to open a network of gas stations around the country that offer biodiesel made from recycled vegetable oil. His talk should be both entertaining and inspirational.”