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Vol. 33 No. 6
November-December 2011

From Swaziland to San Juan

One of the Young Observers at the GA shared a fascinating story about the role that IUPAC played in his decision to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. After obtaining a B.S. in chemistry as an undergrad, Justin Youngblood found himself unsure what to do with his degree. So, as many have done before, he joined the Peace Corps and found himself in Swaziland, the small country between South Africa and Mozambique.

W. Justin Youngblood
W. Justin Youngblood (University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA) is seated to the right. Fellow Young Observer Leif Abrell (University of Arizona, Tuscon, AZ, USA) is on the left, and former YO Daniel Rabinovich, University of North Carolina (USA), is in the back.

At one point in 1996, Youngblood traveled by bus to Windhoek, Namibia, for a week-long break. The trip involved a long stopover in Johannesburg where he would catch a bus to take him across South Africa’s Transvaal region (great plains). With the University of the Witwatersrand a short walk from the bus rank in downtown Johannesburg, Youngblood said that “curiosity got the better of me.” Upon exploring the chemistry department, he came across a flyer for an IUPAC conference on chemistry and the environment that grabbed his attention.

A few months later, Youngblood returned to the campus to attend the conference and it proved to be a life-changing moment. The lectures were so fascinating that he decided then and there that he would eventually pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. Further, he made a commitment to use chemistry to help the environment. Today, as a professor of chemistry at the University of North Texas, his research focuses on using synthetic organic chemistry to design compounds for studying and improving electron transport behavior in solar cells. And, all these years later, having come full circle in a sense, Prof. Youngblood confided that he still has a memento from that conference in Durban: the original flyer that reignited his passion for chemistry.

“IUPAC has been a great inspiration in my life and career,” Youngblood said. “I hope in the future to give back in a way that helps IUPAC to inspire another generation of scientists to work on scientific topics that can benefit Earth and humanity.”


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