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Chemistry in the Classroom

Longtime professor “Doc” Bitterwolf named AAAS Fellow for dedication to teaching, research

By Tara Roberts

Photo by UI Photo Services

University of Idaho chemistry professor Tom “Doc” Bitterwolf thinks of many of his students as adopted children. After almost 30 years at UI, he even counts academic grandchildren — the kids of former students — among the thousands of Vandals who have gotten to know him and his passion for chemistry.

“That the university actually pays me to do this job is what astonishes me,” Bitterwolf says with a laugh. “I’m trying not just to teach my students facts, but to teach them how those facts came to exist, to teach them that science is a human endeavor.”

Bitterwolf’s love of teaching is well known to his students and the UI community. Now, it’s been recognized by the nation’s preeminent science organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

AAAS named Bitterwolf among its prestigious class of 2014 AAAS Fellows for his work as a teacher and researcher. Bitterwolf joined 400 other scientists from across the nation Feb. 14 to receive the honor at the organization’s annual meeting in San Jose, California.

Bitterwolf came to UI in 1988 after a stint teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy. He has taught first-year chemistry and inorganic chemistry from the start, and in 1996 began teaching the introductory chemistry course through the University Honors Program.

Bitterwolf particularly enjoys teaching honors students, because it allows him to go above and beyond traditional first-year chemistry topics.

“That has just been pure fun,” he says. “You get to go into class, and you get to present these really, really bright kids with ideas they’ve never had a chance to see.”

Outside the classroom, Bitterwolf is dedicated to supporting and guiding students. His office — the walls of which are covered with photos of Vandals — is always a safe space for students to talk.

As a researcher, Bitterwolf studies intermediates in chemical reactions — the substances that are temporarily formed as a reaction makes its way from beginning ingredients to end products. He always employs a crew of undergraduates in his lab, allowing him yet another opportunity to teach.

“It’s an enormously fun experience for me. I get to teach them techniques, and I get to mentor them,” he says.

And, he adds, this dedication to undergraduate education isn’t just his alone, but a characteristic of his many colleagues across UI. Being named an AAAS Fellow for his teaching reflects on the university as a whole, he says.

“One thing I feel passionate about is that as an institution, the University of Idaho does an extraordinary job of undergraduate education. I’ve always been very, very proud to be part of that,” he said. “I feel that this recognition is really a recognition of the university, because they’ve given me the chance to work with these kids, to do research, to do all these things.”

Department of Chemistry

Physical Address:
Renfrew Hall 116

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Dr, MS 2343
Moscow, ID 83844-2343

Phone: (208) 885-6552

Fax: (208) 885-6173

Email: chemoff@uidaho.edu

Web: Department of Chemistry