Ronald M. Pike: Micro-Chemist, Macro-Saint

    “Ronald M. Pike: Micro-Chemist, Macro-Saint,” Ensign, Apr. 1989, 68–69

    Ronald M. Pike: Micro-Chemist, Macro-Saint

    Finding the chemistry lab on most college campuses is easy, if you use your nose. But the odors that for years have extended well beyond the walls of most chemistry classrooms may become a thing of the past, thanks to Ronald M. Pike, a professor at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts.

    Brother Pike and two colleagues from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, have teamed up to change the way chemistry is taught. Their innovations in micro-scale chemistry could help to cut down the amount of toxic chemicals dumped into the environment and the soaring costs of chemicals.

    The result of their work is a revolutionary new college textbook that may also be used in secondary schools within a few years. “Micro-scale chemistry is not really new,” Brother Pike explains. However, it is bringing great changes in the teaching of chemistry and could reduce the quantity of reagents and solvents students use in experiments by as much as a thousand times. It will now be possible, for example, to conduct one of the most common experiments used in classes with a mere 2.5 milliliters (a fraction of an ounce) of ether (which has a very strong odor) instead of 150 to 200 milliliters.

    But there are other advantages to micro-scale chemistry. By using micro-portions of chemicals, students can immediately see certain chemical reactions that usually require hours.

    “Students can get excited about these kinds of advantages,” claims Brother Pike. But he admits that there are some things students don’t like about micro-scale chemistry. Measuring and working with such small amounts of material is demanding and requires precision and dexterity. “Before,” he says, “it didn’t affect the experiment if they spilled a few grains or drops of a substance.” However, he says, when students attain the precision to work with micro-measures of chemicals, “they feel an even greater sense of accomplishment in their efforts.”

    Major national chemical organizations are recognizing the significance of Brother Pike’s achievement, and schools and organizations are requesting seminars and workshops to acquaint teachers with the new procedures.

    Brother Pike, a former bishop, has served as executive secretary in the Nashua New Hampshire Stake for more than ten years. And despite his busy schedule, he is also adept at his calling.

    “He knows what is needed to keep schedules and programs running smoothly while still caring genuinely for people,” says Leo Pitcher, past president of the stake. That caring is also manifested in Brother Pike’s teaching. “He has been known to receive standing ovations from his chemistry students at the end of lectures,” adds President Pitcher.

    Photo by David Powell