Gordon has long career, many achievements

Blake Dowson

The accolades go on and on for Mark Gordon, distinguished professor in chemistry.

“It’s very gratifying, but I should emphasize that nearly all of my publications are with one or more of my students,” Gordon said. “So, the number of publications reflects their hard work and creativity, as well.”

Gordon first stepped on Iowa State’s campus in 1968 after he earned his doctorate from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh as a postdoctoral researcher. He later returned to Iowa State in 1992 as a full-time member of the chemistry faculty.

Gordon has been published more than 550 times in numerous publications, and has been cited thousands of times by other professors for the work that he has done.

Other than teaching, Gordon also directs the Applied Mathematics and Computational Sciences division at the Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, and also holds the Francis M. Craig Chair in chemistry.

As for where he found a passion for chemistry, Gordon said he has an old teacher of his to thank.

“I had a terrific chemistry teacher, John Joyce, in high school who really energized me and my interest in chemistry,” Gordon said. “I stayed in touch with him during college and graduate school. After that, I was pretty far from New York most of the time, so I didn’t see him as much. He was a real inspiration.”

When asked about what it means to become a distinguished professor, Gordon emphasized balance.

“I guess it means that you have achieved a level of excellence in both research and teaching,” Gordon said. “I want to emphasize the teaching component, because some people think that an accomplished researcher cannot be a good teacher, but this is far from the truth. Being an excellent teacher requires you to really care about your students and their learning process, and it takes a similar dedication for both teaching and research. Many people are really good at both.”

Tom Holme, a professor in chemistry, said that Gordon has found that balance.

“Mark is very gifted at achieving the perfect balance between advancing science and advancing the tools we use to do science,” Holme said. “In his case, this is all done in the context of quantum mechanical models of chemistry. He has always been superb at building both our knowledge of the theory needed to carry out work in this field and the computer tools that allow us to apply these theories to what molecules are doing.”

Holme went on to say how important this was to the science community.

“This is a valuable combination in science because throughout the history of science, the way society advances is a combination of these things,” Holme said. “Having both aspects in a single research group is one of the best ways to have high-impact research going on, like we have here at Iowa State in Mark’s group.”

Gordon has inspired many of his students to continue with a career in chemistry, with Holme being one of them.

“You can ask any of his former students, and they’ll tell you the same — that he is an excellent mentor,” Holme said. “It was many years ago that I did undergraduate research with Mark, and there is no question that I would not be a research scientist today if I hadn’t done so. Once again, balance is a good way to describe his approach to working with students.”

Gordon also gives students a bit more freedom with their research.

“[Gordon] provides enough structure and guidance that you can accomplish the goals of your research, but he also lets you do the research,” Holme said. “Unlike classroom science, nobody knows the answer of the questions that get asked of you as an undergraduate research student. That’s exciting, and [is] a big reason why so many students like doing research, but it can be frustrating, as well. Having a mentor like Mark, who has learned so well how to both be there and let you work on your own, is one of the best ways to be introduced to the excitement of research.”

Gordon said that he hopes students walk away from his classes with more than just knowledge of chemistry.

“The most important thing is to learn to think critically, to analyze a problem and come to a logical solution,” Gordon said. “This is essential in all areas of science.”

Other than chemistry, Gordon said his passion is the New York Yankees, and that his dream job would be to coach in pinstripes from the bench.

Gordon said that if he could give any piece of advice to anyone who is pursuing their dream, it would be to “work hard, believe in yourself and never give up.”