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Know Your Pelicans

Meet Alice Lurain

Upper School Science Teacher

Know Your Pelicans

What is your favorite thing about Packer?

I love that every day as I walk through the halls of Packer, I exchange greetings with students, faculty, and staff. It is a wonderfully welcoming and affirming feeling to be seen and acknowledged with warmth, and often, with enthusiasm. I don't take this for granted, and I think it reflects the strength of our relationships and the value we place on community in our school.

Describe a favorite or memorable moment in your classroom at Packer.

Many memorable moments occur when tours of prospective students and their families stop by the chemistry lab. One day, in particular, I remember a large tour being led by our much beloved former art teacher, Ken Rush. Two students were vigorously debating how to troubleshoot their experiment. Mr. Rush asked them to please quiet down so he could speak to the tour group. Both students just stared at him; after a beat passed, one said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Rush, but we're SCIENCING here!" And they went right back to their discussion. I've never seen Ken Rush speechless before or since!

Name a book/artwork/piece of music that changed your life and explain how.

When I arrived at college, I had a deep love of literature and languages; I was thrilled by the ability of words to evoke beauty and emotion, to paint lush visual landscapes and to create bonds of empathy with characters on a page. On the other hand, I thought of science as interesting in the way that it allowed you to unravel puzzles and figure out how and why phenomena occurred, but it didn't move me in my heart – that is, until I took Organic Chemistry with Dr. Jacobi. I remember very distinctly the day that he described Robert Woodward's landmark chemical synthesis of strychnine. As he drew pictures on the chalk board representing the construction of this molecule from very simple six carbon ring structures into an incredibly complex wonder of interlocking rings with specific 3-dimensional architecture through 29 different chemical steps, he talked about the beauty of the work. He took for granted that it was technically brilliant — Woodward had succeeded in building a molecule found in nature that many chemists at the time thought would be impossible to construct in a laboratory — but this was not why Dr. Jacobi was sharing it with us. I understood from his lecture — from the words he used and the tone of reverence he employed – that the awe with which the synthesis was regarded and the reason organic chemists returned to it again and again as an inspiration came from its artistry. Woodward didn't just put the bonds together; he did it elegantly, exquisitely, with a creativity that has moved generations of chemists as it moved me that day. My pulse still quickens as I think about it. After that, I understood that the practice of science tapped into wells of creativity, revealed beauty, and could move me in my heart just as literature and language did.

What is something that most Packer people wouldn't know about you?

I love the fax machine. I mean, sure — we have email with pdf attachments and smartphones that can scan or take photos and wirelessly send them to smartphones across the globe faster than you can check for Facebook messages — but isn't there something just really amazing about feeding a physical piece of paper into a machine in one place and having an identical physical piece of paper spit out of a machine in some other place?! It's basically like the transporter in Star Trek. If only I could feed myself into the fax machine...


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