In all our house re-arranging, we came across my old college notes in a dusty box in the basement. I was thrilled because I was convinced that I had thrown it all away in a fit of decluttering when I was pregnant with Edda, but it turns out, I threw a lot away, but I kept the important bibles. I know all this stuff is meaningful only to me, but I had that warm feeling of happiness in my chest going through this stuff and thinking about Vince going through all the same material thirty years later. It looks so old – time – y. I’m pretty sure this syllabus was written on a word processor, but I remember you had to pick up all the handouts at the top of the lecture hall each week. I was so naive in 1990. Even about school, which I loved. I did not know the professors were “famous”. I thought their only job was to teach me physics/chemistry/math. I didn’t know who the people were teaching the recitation sections (grad students), I think I remember thinking – where did they find these young-ish people who were often so bad at teaching? I did not know they were not there to teach me, that they were their to do their own research work. I thought college was centered around undergraduates – and in some colleges undergrads are the star, but not at the school I went to.
I did not like physics, I spent a lot of time sleeping in physics class – and only years later did I learn that Prof. Lewin was apparently famous for being not only a great researcher, but also a great teacher. And then yesterday I learned that MIT stripped him of his emeritus title and wiped all his lectures off of the open courseware because he it came to light that he was harassing women students (online most recently, but probably off line as well prior to online harassment opportunities).
The class I loved the most freshman year was organic chemistry taught by Prof. Kemp. I think they did not yet have very good chemical structure drawing software, or else Kemp didn’t want to bother formatting it all and just hand wrote all the problem sets. I loved learning from him, all his notes were color coded, and I found organic chemistry like a dance of electrons, with its own rhythms and flow. I spend many happy library study hours practicing chemical syntheses pathways. Anyways, I found out yesterday, the Prof. Kemp passed away from COVID in early summer after some years of dementia. It was sad and lovely to read the obit, to learn a bit more about one of my favorite teachers.
I can’t do any of this work anymore. I don’t remember any chemical reactions, multivariable calculus, I don’t remember any of those pesky light equations. I barely even remember the names of the equations – Maxwell’s, Grignard, etc. I looked through some of my old exams and marveled how I once knew how to calculate all the things I could calculate!