Making Music in the Chemistry Lab

  • Allison Griffith '10

For Allison Griffith '10, a chemistry major and music minor at Franklin & Marshall, the name of the game is "hypercoordination."

Griffith recently co-authored a paper with Claude Yoder '62, Charles A. Dana Professor of Chemistry, titled "Hypercoordination in Triphenyl Oxinates of the Group 14 Elements." The paper, published in the Journal of Organometallic Chemistry last month, is the first of two that Griffith and Yoder submitted for publication this fall.

But Griffith also has a home in the Department of Music, where she plays the bassoon in the orchestra and symphonic wind ensemble. She has also performed in two plays at F&M.

You might say that Griffith has hypercoordinated the ultimate liberal arts experience. And it all started because the College happened to have three bassoons.

"Among all the schools I applied to, the music program at F&M sold me," Griffith says. "Dr. (Brian) Norcross said they had three bassoons. At Lafayette, someone said, 'I think we might have a bassoon.' That definitely swayed me toward F&M."

A native of Sidney, N.Y., Griffith says she was broad-minded as a first-year student. She took Yoder's General Chemistry I class her first semester, where her passion for the subject took off.

"I was turned on to chemistry after that," Griffith says. "Studying chemistry wasn't a chore—it was easier to study than my other classes."

Griffith began doing research with Yoder during the summer after her sophomore year, focusing on organometallic synthesis. She works with the Group 14 elements—germanium, lead, silicon and tin—using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to study what she synthesized. She succeeded in producing triphenyl oxinates with all four of the Group 14 elements, looking for similarities and trends among the group. Tin and lead accept electron density, while germanium and silicon do not.

Yoder uses the words "savvy" and "sophisticated" to describe Griffith's approach to her work, qualities he says will go a long way toward her pursuit of a career in chemistry.

"Allison's work in the lab reminds me of her bassoon playing—they both have great tone," Yoder says. "Her knowledge of chemistry is good, and her lab technique is good. She'll be a heck of a chemist."

Yoder notes that Griffith wrote the first draft of their paper on hypercoordination, which he says is unusual for an undergraduate. As for Griffith's multifaceted experience in chemistry and music, Yoder says, "she seems to do these things without breaking a sweat."

Griffith plans to continue her chemistry research at the postgraduate level. "My plan is a Ph.D. in chemistry," she says. "I'm not sure what I'll do with it, but this is what I'm passionate about."

She is also passionate about music, which helped to clinch her decision to attend F&M in the first place. "Obviously, chemistry is my career, but being in the music program is something always I'll carry with me after F&M."

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