From the Classroom


Good Chemistry

It isn’t easy explaining organic chemistry in terms students understand.
But that’s a
piece of cake for Brian Love, a fun-loving professor with
a unique sense of humor and a
classic ’74 Camaro.

By Leanne E. Smith

rian Love says most of the problems his students confront involve mixing materials, identifying variables and predicting what will happen in the ensuing chemical reaction. “We don’t have to study that sugar makes tea sweet,” he explains. Students just need to know that A+B=C. “We learn by doing and remembering.” However he explains it, Love says he knows he’s reached students when their facial expressions change from “What?” to “Now I get it!” Then he knows “they can solve a problem they couldn’t before.”  


To those who say “all you’re doing is

in his field of study, Love

responds with the ever-present twinkle

in his eye: “So? How do you eat?

Someone has to make the

molecules, so it’s not an insult to

be accused of cooking.”

Even some colleagues don’t fully understand Love’s specialty: organic synthesis and synthetic methodology. To those who say “all you’re doing is cooking” in his field of study, Love responds with the ever-present twinkle in his eye: “So? How do you eat? Someone has to make the molecules, so it’s not an insult to be accused of cooking.”  

As for culinary preferences, he loves desserts. That’s why there’s a Periodic Table of Desserts poster in his office peeking through hanging storage for his molecular models. It’s stylish efficiency: suspend the models from the ceiling and they don’t get tangled in a box. He says, “It’s quirky. It’s chemical. I just pluck them down when I need them for class.”  

Love has taught at East Carolina since 1994. He received his undergraduate degree from Texas Christian University in 1980. He received his doctorate from Princeton in 1986, completed his postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA the following year, and taught at Auburn University before settling in Greenville.

He chose teaching as a career almost as an afterthought. “There was no big aha moment,” he says. In college he had many good teachers and some bad ones. He observed his professors’ lifestyles and thought, “I could do this.” Besides, teaching sounded better than company lab work, plus he likes “explaining stuff to people, not having to wear a suit to work, and picking my own projects.”  

Andrew Morehead, director of graduate studies, says Love is “a wonderful colleague and mentor to the young faculty. He tirelessly serves the department and students, but what I enjoy most about him is his sneaky sense of humor. As his many lucky students can attest, Brian’s dry wit and puns can enliven the driest of subjects—and fortunately for his colleagues, meetings.”  

Students don’t forget his influence. Love’s first thesis advisee, James Wynne ’94 ’96, now is senior research chemist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and a professor at George Mason University. As a professor Wynne says he tries to pass on Love’s “immense passion for organic chemistry and immeasurable patience with new researchers.” He recalls a time when Love captured the imagination of the class by letting students create esters, or fragrances, and try to identify the starting ingredients. He says, “I still practice Dr. Love’s perfected technique of glassware cleaning—no bubbles allowed in the base bath!”   

Love teaches both undergraduate and graduate classes. He says the latter are fun for him because they are more like his lab work, and he can integrate current research. He has greater expectations for independence and gives take-home problem sets to be completed on the honor system, for which his analogy is: if two paratroopers jump out of a plane, one who studied and one who cheated, the one who studied is more likely to land safely. At the graduate stage, he assumes, “There’s a drive to learn instead of just get by.”  

One of his most vivid teaching memories challenged his preconceptions but showed he was doing something right. A student, unhappy with an exam grade, complained that the test wasn’t fair because some questions weren’t straight out of the book. He asked the student, “Do you think it’s unfair to expect students to think on exams?” Love says he was blown away when the student responded, “Yes.” He laughs about it now, calls it a “slap-my-forehead moment,” but his tests still have at least one question requiring students to explain something.  

“I try, anytime we’re talking about something we’ve done, to show connections,” he says. Sometimes students ask, “Do we need to remember that?” To which he responds: “Yes, we’re now using what seemed useless.”  

One of his biggest surprises about teaching is the fact that professors must keep updating their lectures and teaching strategies. But he’s philosophical about that and likens it to the near constant work he must do to keep his Camaro running. It’s the first car he ever drove; he says he keeps it around because “it seems silly to sell it now.”  

Keeping things running also is what he enjoys about being director of Organic Labs, a position he’s held for eight years. In that capacity he’s responsible for revising the lab course pack, scheduling classrooms, restocking supplies and many routine tasks such as repairing drawer locks. “His ability to organize labs has helped our students have the best learning experience possible in the lab classes,” says Morehead, the graduate studies director. “The job needs someone who can keep it together, so I’ll do it till it’s set so the next person won’t have trouble,” says Love, who admits he’s an “organization freak.”

In research, too, he looks forward to a sense of accomplishment. He’s won numerous grants and published a dozen articles but says it’s a “way bigger thrill [when] something we did is getting used. When Love read in a journal article that someone was finally able to solve a problem using one of his methods, he thought, “Woohoo!  Circle that!” Most of those revelations happen accidentally from working on projects where he found published research methods impractical. bent,” he says. “Like my students, I want something to be easy.”  

But his sense of humor shines through in the serious subject of research. “How can there be this many chemists, and we haven’t done everything already?”