Dedication to Professor Hubert N. Alyea.

Hubert N. Alyea (1903 - 1996)
(Bob Matthews photo, Princeton University; used with permission)

   At age 90, Hubert N. Alyea published an ingenious method for the safe generation of gases, including noxious gases, for classroom use.(Hubert N. Alyea, J. Chem. Educ., 69 65 (1992))  The method utilizes plastic syringes and forms the basis for this series.  Alyea's contributions to chemistry education covered six decades during his life and will continue to do so for many years to come.  Chemistry teachers may be surprised to learn that a large number of the 'classic' chemistry demonstrations, such as the 'Old Nassau' reaction had their roots with Alyea.  His 'Tested Demonstrations' books (Tested Demonstrations in Chemistry, Journal of Chemical Education; edited and compiled by H. N. Alyea and F. B. Dutton, 1965.) serve as doctrine for  countless chemistry educators who share Alyea's belief in the importance of classroom chemical demonstrations.

     When Alyea's gas syringe article appeared in 1992, I (Mattson) had been teaching descriptive inorganic chemistry laboratory using the traditional pneumatic troughs and a fortune in chemicals for gas generation.  On top of that, the teaching experience was nerve-wracking due to the perennial few students who addressed chemistry lab with a cavalier attitude normally associated with bulls in china closets.  For they were the ones who made lab a trial, wielding their liter-size bottles of 6 M nitric acid as if they contained water, expressing indifference to instructions to wearing gloves while inverting gas collection tubes in acids, giving themselves puncture wounds while inserting glass tubing through rubber stoppers and pressurizing Florence flasks until their stoppers blew.  Alyea's gas-syringe method changed all of that and forever impressed upon me the sheer genius of this individual who, at what most would consider to be a quite elderly age, 'fixed' a big problem in laboratory generation of gas samples.  The troughs are on the shelves forever.  Now, four years and 120 students later, we are proud that there has yet to be a laboratory accident associated with gas generation by the gas-syringe method.  For those of us who worry about getting old and losing our usefulness or ability to contribute, Hubert Alyea certainly serves as a true inspiration.  We are proud to dedicate this Chem13 News series on microscale gas chemistry to the man who inspired it in the beginning, Professor Hubert N. Alyea. Hubert Alyea's zany and eccentric style was the inspiration for Disney's The Absent-Minded Professor.  To learn more about this, visit

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