Bulletin News

Research Lab Named in Professor’s Memory


It wasn’t an eternal flame, but the orange-blue fire that briefly danced inside an empty bottle last Friday in the newly named Arden P. Zipp Student Research Laboratory seemed a fitting tribute for the late, legendary chemistry professor.

Kathryn Vernay, Zipp’s widow, and Associate Professor Frank Rossi, Zipp’s former colleague, celebrated the naming of a Bowers Hall laboratory in Arden Zipp’s name by conducting a very memorable scientific demonstration.

“This was Arden’s and my favorite classroom experiment,” said Vernay, smiling and emptying a splash of methanol from an otherwise empty plastic jug. “I wanted to do this at the memorial service, but they had some concerns.”

Vernay then held a lighted match just inside the neck of the bottle and the crowd packed into the room, officially named the Arden P. Zipp Student Research Laboratory just minutes earlier, flinched as invisible vapor in the container ignited with a loud whoosh and colorful, ghostly flames fluttered inside for several seconds.

The Feb. 20 naming ceremony, held outside the third-floor chemistry wing, ended with those gathered singing along to “The Element Song,” a Tom Lehrer recording of a rhythmic listing of 102 chemical elements.

“My father wanted us to memorize them,” said Allyson Zipp, one of his daughters, explaining the sing-along. “He had it handwritten out and stuffed in the glovebox, and whenever we were in the car he’d pull it out and begin again from where we’d left off.”

Zipp’s other daughter, Alaina, could not attend the ceremony, but listened to the event through a smart phone held by Allyson. The event featured remarks by Allyson, Kathryn, Rossi, President Erik J. Bitterbaum and Vice President for Institutional Advancement Peter Perkins.

Zipp Lab
Kathryn Vernay, the widow of late chemistry
professor Arden Zipp, unveiled the plaque
outside the Bowers Hall laboratory that now
bears his name.

Zipp taught chemistry at SUNY Cortland for 41 years, serving as department chair on two separate occasions, and was awarded the title of Distinguished Teaching Professor in 1985.

Zipp made countless contributions to his discipline. He chaired the Advanced Placement (AP) Development Committee directed by the College Board and served as chief examiner in chemistry for the International Baccalaureate Organization. He also handled chief reader duties for AP Chemistry and chaired the AP Chemistry Test and the American Chemical Society Olympiad committees. Zipp was the only person ever to hold all of those positions.

He created the Microscale Laboratory Column in the Journal of Chemical Education, a publication he edited for 10 years. Zipp authored or coauthored more than 50 published works and presented more than 250 chemistry workshops and lectures for teachers at regional, national and international conferences.

In 1991, the Chemical Manufacturers Association honored him with the prestigious Catalyst Award for his service to chemistry education. Zipp was highly respected by his students, for whom he always had time, and by his colleagues at both the college and high school levels.

He always strove to make chemistry fun through demonstrations, the kind that will continue to take place in the laboratory that now bears his name.