“It was kind of like there were two of me! On Monday, Wednesday, Friday I was doing chemistry and laboratories, and on Tuesday and Thursdays I studied the classics.” says Dr. Anne Gorden (EC’ 96) about her undergraduate experience at Emory. Her desire to study chemistry dated back to high school. Learning that her AP credits left her with space in her schedule opened up the opportunity to choose another field, too. So, between chemistry lectures and labs, (including undergraduate research with Emeritus Professor Al Padwa), Anne began taking classes in English, literature, classics, and Spanish. By the time she graduated, she had earned enough credits to double major in Chemistry and Literature.
Early in her academic career, Anne recognized the value of merging the fields of science and language. As an undergraduate, she had the unique chance to TA for a Quantitative Analysis course. She found that she needed to be creative and deliberate with her choice of words to effectively teach complex scientific concepts to a diverse student population. “You have to think about your audience when you’re putting together a presentation as a way to make it more approachable,” says Anne. Her ability to translate dense scientific topics into a language that everyone could understand mirrored her work in comparative literature, a field that explores culture, theory, and history across literary, disciplinary, and linguistic boundaries.
Anne opted to continue her education at the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned her PhD in Organic Chemistry working with Prof. Jonathan Sessler. Her graduate research focused on developing organic compounds for selective detection of actinides. Although the research laboratory was based in Austin, Anne spent about half of her graduate career traveling to Los Alamos National Laboratory to test her compounds. Once again, Anne was a scholar in translation, bridging her chemical interests in organic chemistry to an in actinide and lanthanide chemistry, ultimately steering her towards a postdoctoral appointment with the same theme at the University of California in Berkeley with Prof. Kenneth Raymond.
Now, as an Associate Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry at Auburn University, Professor Gorden is making great use of all aspects of her education. Research faculty spend a lot of time writing. Grants, manuscripts, course curriculum, reference letters… the list goes on. Fortunately for Dr. Gorden, her literature degree helped prepare her for the writing that accompanies her current position.
Before being hired, however, Professor Gorden remembers recognizing that she bridges the fields between organic and inorganic chemistry. The seemingly opposite fields can seem as unrelated as… well… chemistry and literature. Instead of viewing her situation as being split between two fields, she began to view it as an opportunity, as she had done back in undergraduate days at Emory. The two independent chemistry disciplines inform each other, making each more dynamic and well-rounded, just as her training in chemistry and literature do.
As a mentor, Professor Gorden aims to help her students reach their goals by presenting as many opportunities as possible. She serves as an advisor for the Association of Women in Science at Auburn University and helps to provide undergraduate women with a platform for support and networking. For Anne, the most important thing for graduate students is to be guided by passion and scientific creativity. “You have to find the spot that you fit in,” she says, “where there is a project that really inspires you, and where you are going to get the skills, the tools you need for your career.”