About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.
Graham Sazama, affectionately known as Dr. Saz, brings enthusiasm and curiosity to his teaching and research in chemistry.
An associate professor of chemistry at Lawrence University, Sazama leads research that bridges the fields of organic materials and inorganic chemistry. He and his students pursue the synthesis and study of luminescent organic radicals and investigate the properties of three-dimensional materials known as metal-organic frameworks.
As chair of the Academic Advising Committee, he continues to do important work with colleagues in setting processes and expectations for academic advising on campus.
In-depth coursework deepens your knowledge of chemistry. As you grow in the major, you'll gain experience with computational and experimental work.
Sazama joined the chemistry faculty at Lawrence in 2016 following a postdoctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A native of Wisconsin, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University.
We caught up with Sazama to talk about interests in and out of the classroom.
In the classroom
Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?
I absolutely love science, and I believe every one of my students can enjoy it, too. I try to bring my enthusiasm for chemistry into the classroom and hope I can lead my students to see how fascinating the world can be when viewed through a scientific lens. I also think a great way to convey this enthusiasm is by lighting things on fire.
Getting energized: What work have you done, or will you be doing, at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?
I have been having a great time creating a new class called Energy, Technology, and the Environment. It’s a non-majors lab science class that tackles big questions of chemistry, physics, and engineering in the context of our current environmental challenges. I get to engage students in discussions about individual technologies I’m passionate about and have done research on, like solar energy and the hydrogen economy, while also talking about the larger context behind it all. I always get a little philosophical when talking about the laws of thermodynamics, and I feel like that’s especially relevant in an interdisciplinary class like this one. We’re even getting out into the community and talking to several cleantech and green energy companies in the Appleton area, which I hope helps my students make further connections between their learning in class and the real world.
Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional, or spiritual) that took you by surprise?
In 2018, here at LU, we had a community read of poet Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude before he came to campus for a visit. I was asked to lead a once-weekly discussion section that students could take for a single credit. I ended up with a classroom with people from all over the university, including some of my chemistry students, environmentalists, and even Professor Eilene Hoft-March from the French department. I felt like our small group really bonded over the poetry we were reading together, and it culminated in a funny, emotional, and poignant reading from Ross himself. This experience made me a total poetry convert; I have even since tried writing some of my own poetry.
Out of the classroom
This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?
I love working with my hands and find building things very rewarding. I always told myself that my backup plan if the chemistry thing didn’t work out was to follow in my grandpa’s footsteps and be an electrician. I get to scratch that itch more often than I would’ve expected in my role as a professor here, fixing instruments and rigging up new experiments.
Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation, or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?
It’s not relaxation exactly, but Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon at the Wellness Center. I’ve been playing the noon hour basketball game since I started working here, as often as my schedule allows. It’s a fantastic workout and especially nice on days when I need to get out of my own head. Maybe the best part, though, is that we have a great, friendly, supportive community of people from all over, including students, faculty, staff and community members. I look forward to it every time.
One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula LeGuin: I have a very hard time choosing between recommending Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, or N.K. Jemisin, as I absolutely love all three authors, but LeGuin is such a trailblazer. The Left Hand of Darkness is an exciting and thought-provoking adventure; in particular, LeGuin knows how to end her stories with the proper amount of closure and open-ended possibility.
Liquid Anatomy, by Alkaloid: It’s a poorly kept secret that I love extreme metal music; Alkaloid has a really fun blend of groove and technical ability put together with killer songwriting. The last song on this album will have you roaring “CEPHALOPODS” right along with the singer.
Mr. Robot: Can I use TV instead of film? If so, I think a lot of people have never heard of Mr. Robot, or if they have heard the title, they think it’s weird sci-fi about robots. There actually are no robots in this show about hackers, but it touches on themes that I find really compelling like family, late capitalism, and mental health.