In 2021, the Chemistry Department installed a new gallery along the Science Center 3rd floor hallway, illustrating chemistry through the eyes of talented photographer, Professor Greg Suryn. Originally from Colorado, Professor Suryn began learning and practicing photography over a decade ago while attending the undergraduate program at Grinnell College in Iowa. He loves traveling, hiking and mountain biking so has many opportunities to take photos of the natural world. As a chemist, Professor Suryn also brings his camera into the lab, taking photos of objects and processes used in chemical experimentation.
Suryn’s photographs, displayed in the Gettysburg College Science Center, show fall leaves, ice, bubbles, test tubes, sediment dried into a Büchner funnel, crystallized sodium chloride and more. All are artistically beautiful and all demonstrate lessons in chemistry that today’s students are learning in the classroom and practicing in their labs.
Although we began the Science Center gallery with a collection of Professor Suryn’s work, we hope to change up items on display from time to time, circulating in new photos from Professor Suryn, from students or from alumni. Currently, the display includes a photo taken by Chemistry major, Meem Noshin Nawal Khan, Class of 2024.
Kahn’s photo shows a Tetrahyrofuran (THF) and water solution kept at high pressure and low temperature to form clathrate hydrate crystals of THF. The crystals developed to resemble a sunflower.
If you have a photo or other artwork you’d like to contribute that might be appropriate for the Science Center gallery, please get in touch with Lea Czar (firstname.lastname@example.org), Professor Suryn (email@example.com) or any of the Chemistry faculty.
In January 2022, Professor Suryn shared his experiences as a photographer with fellow College faculty in the Friday Forum, a series of presentations for faculty development. In Suryn’s presentation, “Lessons from the Lens”, he discussed the influence photography has had on his teaching and in his personal life.
He quoted Guy Tal who wrote in his book, Another Day Not Wasted: Meditations on Photography, Art, and Wildness, “In my mind these experiences are a kind of retirement savings–cherished moments and memories I hope to someday recall with the same bittersweet joy and gratitude I felt when experiencing them, and I will know that I have truly lived. It’s not about photography; it’s about living life.”
Suryn offered a dozen “lessons from the lens”, relating lessons he’s learned through photography to teaching. In one example, Suryn found that photography reinforced for him the idea that rules can be broken. This lesson also applies to teaching, where flexibility is sometimes a key to helping students reach their goals.
Suryn’s skill and confidence as a photographer has improved over time. He talked about re-visiting his early work to remind himself of how much he’s learned with practice. He finds the same is true for teaching. Suryn says, “Teaching, like learning, is about steady improvement. Don’t forget to look back on where you started to appreciate how far you’ve come. “
Professor Suryn referenced a June 2019 article from Nature about the value of hobbies in relieving stress, improving work–life balance and helping scientists to reach innovative solutions in their work. Quoting the article, he said, “Many scientists say that their hobbies provide them with crucial opportunities to relax, to find satisfaction in completing small, defined projects and, occasionally, to make the kinds of insightful leaps that propel science forward.”
Professor Suryn finds that focusing on photography allows him to “switch off” work and de-stress. In addition, creativity developed through photography often adds creativity in other areas of his life and work.
Portraits from the Past
Prior to installing our current photography display, portraits of past Chemistry Department faculty, adorned Science Center walls. The same portraits were on display in our former Breidenbaugh Hall home.
Chemistry Department Chair Professor John B. Zinn began the collection in the mid-1920’s by requesting a portrait of his predecessor, Professor Edward S. Breidenbaugh. Professor Breidenbaugh was the department’s first chair, serving for 50 years, from 1874 when the department was established until his retirement in 1925.
Breidenbaugh’s portrait was first installed in the newly built Science Building, named Breidenbaugh Hall in honor of the beloved professor. This portrait was eventually joined by portraits of Dr. Zinn and other faculty as they entered retirement. The portraits were a way for us to honor the contributions of faculty members who shouldered the challenging task of guiding and developing the department through ever-changing times.
Since the early 2000’s, however, recent faculty chose not to add their portraits to the collection. We realized that the historic portraits no longer resonated with our current students, as many of them were born years or decades after the faculty pictured in the portraits left Gettysburg College. We retired the portraits to the Musselman Library Special Collections Department where they could be appropriately stored and preserved, remaining accessible to researchers and anyone interested as needed.