When Visiting Professor of Chemistry Mardi Billman first came to Hillsdale College, she said it was the atmosphere of the liberal arts that appealed to her the most.
“It’s education for the sake of knowing things,” Billman said. “Not to say that the goal isn’t to find something to do after college, but there is something valuable in just knowing. Hillsdale felt like the place I not only wanted to be but I needed to be.”
Billman said the chemistry department at Hillsdale College is undergoing a shift in administrative duties this school year, so she was hired to help teach while others in the department took on larger administrative roles. She will teach both sections of General Chemistry, the class that covers the fundamental laws and theories of scientific field.
“It’s a very important course because it sets the tone for the rest of the department,” said Matthew Young, chemistry department chairman. “We’re putting a lot of confidence in her. What really stands out about Dr. Billman is her enthusiasm for chemistry. She brings so much energy to the classroom.”
Billman took a position teaching general chemistry at Simpson College in Iowa, after earning her doctorate at Colorado State University in August 2016. Prior to that, she attended the College of St. Benedict, an all-women’s liberal arts college in Minnesota.
Billman taught her first classes at Hillsdale Aug 30.
“It was crazy but so exciting,” Billman said. “I love it.”
Sophomore Charlie Adams, a student in Billman’s General Chemistry course, said that he particularly enjoyed a chemistry demonstration that she did on the first day of class.
Billman’s graduate research involved figuring out why halogens, a nonmetal group of elements on the right side of the periodic table, participate in halogen bonding chemistry. Billman said halogen bonding is counterintuitive because halogens, which are electron-rich, should not be able to attract other electron-rich elements such as oxygen, but they do.
Scientists have used this information in biology to synthesize drugs since the halogen bonding allows them to manipulate the molecule, Billman said.
“Her research is computational chemistry, not based on traditional experiments, so that is not something anyone else in our department does,” Young said. “It’s a good complement to the research areas we already have.”