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Published: Thursday, 4/24/2003

Scientist's interests keep on shrinking


Down a dark hallway lined with cabinets full of rocks, Nina McClelland marches doggedly to yet another appointment on her long day's visit to Toledo.

Her schedule is crammed from 10 a.m. until after dinner.

“She's more accustomed to this than you or I,'' says John Kirchhoff, associate chairman of the University of Toledo's chemistry department, as he hustles her along to her next engagement.

Her 73 years earn her no slack. These people know what she can do. They're not hung up by the little dachshund pin that dances on her lapel - serious chemists, apparently, can wear cute jewelry.

Dr. McClelland is surely a serious chemist, and yesterday she stormed the UT campus, a sort of victorious returning alumna, every bit as much in love with the ways of molecules as she was in 1963, when she finished her master's degree at the university.

“I marvel at all that is really happening in my lifetime,'' Dr. McClelland says. She recites litanies of scientific improvement, stopping longest to extol her newest fascination, nanotechnology.

“We're going to make things smaller, better, cheaper,'' she says. It's chemistry, she says, that will help get us there.

Between talking about government spending for basic research - it ought to be doubled - to remembering her days as a UT undergrad - there was only University Hall, the president's house, the field house, the stadium, and a woman's sorority house - Dr. McClelland continued to sound the theme of the wonders of science.

“I came out of the macro world. Now I'm going to have to get used to, not the micro world, but the nano world. I think it's very fascinating. And the American Chemical Society is at the very cutting edge of this stuff.''

“I'm very proud of my field. I still find it challenging. I like the explorations chemistry can make. And I don't see the end of the tunnel,'' she says.

Chemistry too often gets a bad rap, she says. The public doesn't get it, she adds.

That's largely the fault of a news media too anxious to publicize things like pollution or chemical accidents, and too reluctant to trumpet advances in areas such as pharmaceuticals.

In the meantime, chemistry itself is transforming. “We're eliminating the lines in the sands between the various sciences.'' For graduates of today, chemistry will be a whole new world, she says.

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