Magazine Feature / People

Sandra Eaton will set you straight on EPR

Mark your calendar for April 19 when the 2007 University Lecturer will present a riveting program on electron paramagnetic resonance.

Sandra Eaton, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, laughs and says, “My friends keep saying, ‘I’ll attend your lecture, but I’m sure I won’t have any idea what you’re talking about.’ ”

Eaton constantly challenges herself to dispel those innate fears.

“I’m in a classroom all the time,” she says. “If I can’t communicate what I do, why am I here?”

For the record, electron paramagnetic resonance allows scientists to study diseases on a molecular level — the method detects the spin of electrons to reveal information about the identity, environment and arrangement of molecules.

Eaton is an expert in the groundbreaking field. She has published nearly 300 research reports, reviews, tutorial articles and book reviews, and she has presented her research at more than 250 professional meetings.

In 1996, DU honored Eaton as the United Methodist Church University Scholar/Teacher of the Year. The next year, she and her husband, Chemistry Professor Gareth Eaton, were named John Evans Professors, the University’s highest honor.

Eaton’s recognition extends well beyond the University’s boundaries. In 2001, she and Gareth won the American Chemical Society Colorado Section Award, and in 2002, they were awarded the prestigious Bruker Prize of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

And her passion for the sciences is matched only by Eaton’s passion for academia.  As an undergraduate student at Wellesley College, she decided she would forgo a career in the corporate world for one in the academic world — a path that allows for the curiosity and communication she desired.

“If you go into the corporate world, you have to be focused on corporate goals,” she says. “I wanted more choice.”

In her own classroom and lab, Eaton says she strives to be a mentor and communicator.

“Sandy’s achievements as a scholar-teacher at the University of Denver are profound,” says Provost Gregg Kvistad.  “She has seamlessly incorporated the mentoring of graduate and undergraduate students into her prodigious scholarly output.”

And it’s easy to imagine this sprightly, blue-eyed, lab-coated professor in front of a roomful of scientists, sharing details about “organic radicals and transition metal ions.” But will she be able to captivate a room full of historians, artists, business professionals, lawyers and linguists on April 19?

“I want to talk about what we do as scientists,” she says. “I’m not giving a basic chemistry class. I’m going to share what it’s like to be a scientist.”

Eaton says she will lecture about how to pull together a scientific team, the process of discovery and the ways those discoveries are communicated.

“When you’re an English professor and you write a book, typically you are alone,” she says. “In the sciences, you must create a team and utilize each person’s skills. Then you must communicate. You can’t keep discovery to yourself.”

Besides, “this is the one award at the University for which you must give a lecture,” she says. “I have to work for my award!  I’m going to break down the belief that only scientists can understand science.”

This article originally appeared in The Source, January 2007.

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