Daniel A. Smith
associate professor of chemistry, 1994-present
By Rachel Lapp
Associate Professor of Chemistry Dan Smith knows an industrial secret
that he sometimes shares with visitors: Goshen College holds the
worlds entire supply of the compound bis (2,6-dimethylphenyl
isocyano) tetra-p-tolyl porphyrin Ruthenium (II), not to mention
bis (2,6-dimethylphenyl isocyano) tetra-p-tolyl porphyrin Osmium
For those not versed in organometallic chemistry, these are two
new porphyrin compounds. The result is efficient catalysts for the
synthesis of alkenes and cyclopropanes. Developed in GCs science
lab by Smith and student Maple Leaf Scholar Andrea Voth (Sr., Walton,
Kan.), developing these compounds took longer at GC than they might
have in a university lab with grad student help, but Smith doesnt
mind. It is part of his teaching philosophy.
Im a synthetic chemist. That doesnt mean Im
plastic; it means I like to make things for the first time,
said Smith, describing his field of inorganic chemistry.
Smith consciously chose to join a faculty without the publish
or perish pressure that often accompanies college and university
appointments. I wanted to be somewhere where teaching was
the primary responsibility and research was possible. And I wanted
it in a Christian college setting.
Growing up in New Holland, Pa., Smiths physics teacher at
Garden Spot High School was his father. His first contact with Anabaptism
was at Church of the Brethren-related Elizabethtown College, where
he studied chemistry and physics education. He had planned to teach
high school, but said he had so much fun doing research
including X-ray crystallography while in graduate
school at Bucknell University, where he earned a masters degree
in inorganic chemistry, that he decided to work toward a Ph.D.,
eventually specializing in organometallic chemistry for his doctorate
at Iowa State University.
While doing postdoctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin,
Smith heard about an open position at Goshen. He had made some Mennonite
connections in Iowa and attended a Church of the Brethren/General
Conference Mennonite church in Austin. When he visited northern
Indiana to interview at GC, he found one of the countrys few
X-ray crystallography labs, similar demographics to his native county
and similar values.
My faith doesnt leave me when I am in the lab. I think
about what implications faith has on where I focus my research,
said Smith. I want to have the opportunity to talk about Christian
faith issues with my students as they think about these things as
well. ... Expressing faith and living faith is important in all
of our roles. Students are starting to synthesize that here.
And the lab and classroom produces more than faith conversations.
The results of student lab work have surprised Smiths peers
at other institutions.
One of my mentors at a large university said, You cant
do this work with undergraduates, but we are slowly proving
him wrong, Smith said. Undergraduate researchers have
an interesting challenge. They have a different sense of what to
try. They are very enthusiastic. Lots of what happens is new, and
sometimes we make mistakes and sometimes we start over, but sometimes
thats really stimulating. It goes more slowly, but that doesnt
mean its any less exciting.
Smith said office time with students, whether arranging class schedules
or speaking honestly about religion, is important to the Goshen
In advising, we can take time to tell students that they might
make a good teacher, or that they may want to change career goals
and consider medicine, he said. We have the opportunity
to get to know students and help them think about those types of