Mohrig, Jerry R.
Carleton College

Jerry R. Mohrig
Professor of Chemistry Emeritus
Carleton College

Jerry Mohrig is Herman and Gertrude Mosier Stark Professor in the Natural Sciences and Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. He has spent his entire professional career as a college teacher and taught at Carleton from 1967 to 2003, serving as Chair of the Chemistry Department on two occasions. His teaching interests have included organic, bioorganic, and introductory chemistry.

After primary and secondary education in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jerry received his undergraduate education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (B.S. in Chemistry, 1957). He obtained his Ph.D. degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1963 in the area of physical-organic chemistry. Jerry was married to Jean Schwolow (1936-1999) in 1960; they had three children, David (1961), Jonathan (1964-1984), and Sara (1969). He married Adrienne Slocum in 2001.

Teaching and Research

His first teaching position was at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, where he was an Assistant Professor (1964-67). He then relocated to Carleton College and moved through the academic ranks, serving as Assistant Professor (1967-69), Associate Professor (1969-75), Professor of Chemistry (1975-90), and Laurence McKinley Gould Professor in the Natural Sciences (1990-98). Jerry also served as a visiting Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, during the summer of 1972 and the academic year 1982-83. He was visiting Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the summer of 1978. He has had sabbatical leaves at Harvard University (1989-90), at the University of California, Berkeley (1982-83), and at the Universitat Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany (1974-75).

Jerry has been honored with the 1996 Briscoe Distinguished Lectureship at Indiana University, the 1989 James Flack Norris Award, given each year by the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society, and a 1978 Catalyst Award of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, all for excellence in the teaching of chemistry.

Actively involved in the reform of undergraduate education throughout his career, Jerry has worked with a number of national efforts to improve science education. He has also coauthored a number of textbooks, including Modern Projects and Experiments in Organic Chemistry and Techniques in Organic Chemistry published by W. H. Freeman, which have appeared in five editions, as well as Chemistry in Perspective, a text for non-science majors.

During his entire career, Jerry collaborated on chemical research projects with undergraduate students. After working on the isolation and reactions of alkanediazonium cations during the first ten years of his teaching career, he has focused on the stereochemical nature of organic addition-elimination and proton-transfer reactions and enzymatic catalysis, particularly the fundamental question of enzymatic efficiency. This research, done with some 150 undergraduate colleagues, was supported over the years by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Petroleum Research Fund of the American Chemical Society, the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, and the Research Corporation. Arguably, his most important scientific paper has been "Importance of Historical Contingency in the Stereochemistry of Hydratase-Dehydratase Enzymes," Science 1995, 269, 527-529. This research provided the first unequivocal data where the mechanism utilized by a group of enzymes is not the most energetically efficient pathway, but instead is related to the evolutionary history of the enzymes. After many years of research, Mohrig and his students have reached a comprehensive understanding of the electronic factors that control the stereochemistry of base-catalyzed 1,2-elimination reactions that produce conjugated acyclic carbonyl compounds. In retirement he expects to summarize their research results by writing a number of articles for publication in professional journals, co-authored by his undergraduate research colleagues. During the past two decades, Jerry has given invited lectures on his chemical research at 20 colleges and universities in the United States.

Jerry has published approximately 30 articles on his scientific research and on educational matters. He has lectured widely on issues in undergraduate science education, including "Students as Colleagues in Teaching and Learning", his 1989 James Flack Norris Award Address, "What Chemists Do and How They Do It" at the 1987 National Conference on Undergraduate Research, "Why Inquiry-Based Projects Work Well in the Organic Chemistry Laboratory" at national symposia in 2000 and 2002, and "Frangipani" at the 2003 Carleton College Honors Convocation.

National Activities in Undergraduate Science Education

Jerry was a councilor of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) from its founding in 1978 until 1989, serving as its president from 1983-1987. CUR played a major, effective role in making the case for undergraduate research as an integral part of science education, which is now widely appreciated and used throughout the United States. He was co-chair of the Second National CUR Conference on Undergraduate Research in 1988. He has lectured widely on the important mentoring possibilities that are embedded in the undergraduate research enterprise.

In 1989, when Jeanne Narum called together a small group of people to articulate a vision for the reform of undergraduate science education, Jerry was among the six people at the table. As a founding member of Project Kaleidoscope, a national project to identify and disseminate what works, he served on the Executive Committee from 1989 until 1996 and helped to chart its path. He was co-chair of the National Colloquium on Strengthening Undergraduate Science and Mathematics Education in 1991 and has lectured widely on effective curricular innovation.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is unique among major scientific societies in operating a formal approval program of undergraduate chemistry programs. From 1992 to 2000 Jerry was a member and from 2001 to 2003 a consultant of the ACS Committee on Professional Training, which carries out this program. He was chair from 1997 to 1999 and had the opportunity to have a major influence on undergraduate chemical education in the areas of curricular reform and biochemistry. He also made many presentations at symposia and meetings for the Committee.

From 1994 to 2000 Jerry was a member of the Executive Committee and the Molecular Basis of Life Working Group of the ChemLinks Coalition. This group was part of a major National Science Foundation effort to bring about systemic reform in undergraduate chemical education. ChemLinks recently joined together with a like group centered at the University of California, Berkeley, to make the ChemConnections Consortium. As part of his work on the ChemLinks project Jerry was co-organizer of a workshop, "Cooperative Learning in Science", held at Carleton College in 1992. In an attempt to have his organic chemistry classes speak directly to the concerns of biology students, Jerry wrote an organic chemistry teaching module, "Why We Get the Flu Every Year? - Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Molecular Recognition", which he has taught for the past seven years. He has also lectured on this module on a number of occasions. Last year the influenza module was featured as effective interdisciplinary education by the final report of the Bio2010 Committee of the National Research Council.

Over the years, Jerry has served on numerous national advisory boards:

  • Selection Committee for the James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Teaching of Chemistry (2001-2003)
  • Advisory Committee for the Research Site for Educators in Chemistry (RSEC) at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (2001-2003)
  • Corporation Visiting Committee for the Chemistry Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1990-2002)
  • Chemistry Panel of the Bio2010 Committee of the National Research Council
  • Advisory Board of the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education of the National Research Council (1995-98)
  • Chemistry Advisory Committee of the National Science Foundation (1985-88); Chair of the Education and Human Resources Committee (1985-87)
  • Petroleum Research Fund Advisory Board of the American Chemical Society (1984-87)

He has been a consultant to the National Science Foundation on the development of the Research in Undergraduate Institutions Program and on chemistry instrumentation needs at research-active liberal arts colleges. He has been a consultant to the National Institutes of Health and Panel Moderator of the 1990 Workshop on the Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) Program. In 1992 he was a member of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Evaluation Team for Pomona College in Claremont, CA.

Since 1985 Jerry has served as a Natural Science Division and Chemistry Department reviewer for eleven colleges and universities and as a reviewer of scholarly tenure and promotion materials for sixteen colleges and universities. He has also reviewed scientific and educational proposals for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the Research Corporation, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, and the U.S. Department of Education.