Ralph Allen Honored by the American Chemical Society
Ralph Allen applies chemistry to real-world problems.Posted October 14, 2008, 10:50 AM EST
Photo by Melissa Maki
Ralph Allen, professor of chemistry at the University of Virginia, recently received a Distinguished Service Award from the Virginia Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS) for his years of dedication to the field.
Local Sections of the ACS promote public awareness of chemistry through community outreach programs and by working with students of chemistry and science. Allen has traveled extensively over the past 24 years as a tour speaker for the ACS, lecturing on a wide range of cutting-edge topics aimed at engaging both the public and those within the field.
For the past three decades, Allen’s teaching, research and administrative roles have focused on the practical application of chemistry to real-world problems. He has published over 100 papers on the application of chemical analysis to a wide variety of areas such as archeology, environmental pollution, lunar and forensic science. In addition to teaching in the Department of Chemistry, Allen holds faculty appointments in environmental sciences and public health sciences at U.Va., serves as associate vice president for research, and directs the Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
Allen currently teaches two chemistry courses that emphasize analysis and problem solving. He stresses the importance of cooperative and experiential learning in his classes. The bottom line is that students go through classes but they don’t know how to use what they’ve learned,” says Allen. “My classes force them to pull what they’ve learned together to actually apply it to things that they are doing in the lab.”
Though Allen is no longer conducting research, he and his students made a big impact on forensic science in the 1990s. Allen supervised a group of U.Va. chemistry graduate students as they worked at the FBI’s National Academy. Allen notes that these students were responsible for developing the modern analysis of DNA. “The fact that DNA analysis can be done as quickly as it is done today is because of U.Va. students working at the FBI laboratory at Quantico,” he says.
As director of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, Allen continues to influence the University and ultimately the wider community by providing training, overseeing hazardous materials, and assisting in finding more sustainable ways to manage environmental systems. Allen brings some of the challenges he faces in this administrative role to the Master of Public Health course he teaches on environmental health in order to allow students to gain hands-on experience in tackling real problems.
About the American Chemical Society
With more than 160,000 members, the American Chemical Society (ACS) is the world’s largest scientific society and one of the world’s leading sources of authoritative scientific information. A nonprofit organization, chartered by Congress, ACS is at the forefront of the evolving worldwide chemical enterprise and the premier professional home for chemists, chemical engineers and related professions around the globe.