Professor of Chemistry
At Knox Since: 1997
Diana Cermak joined the Knox faculty in 1997. She earned her Ph.D. in
organic chemistry from the University of Iowa and her bachelor's degree
from the University of Minnesota-Morris. Diana's research interests lie primarily
in the area of asymmetric synthesis of optically active organic molecules.
I came to Knox, originally, as a one-year stint to get teaching experience while my husband finished graduate school at the University of Iowa -- Galesburg was close enough and Knox was a good fit for me. I have stayed here because Knox turned out to be exactly what I was looking for -- excellent, hard working students; a wonderful emphasis on research while still demanding great teaching; class sizes that allowed me close interaction with my students; and a smaller community that works together for a common goal -- a great education for our students.
What is your most memorable moment at Knox?
I don't really have a "most memorable" moment; there are memorable moments all the time. When a student in my organic chemistry course "gets" it and the light bulb turns on -- this happens more than one might think and is a huge achievement. When a student says, "I was really intimidated by having to take this course (organic chemistry), but as it turns out, I really liked it," that just makes my day. When we finally get the results in the research lab that we have been working to achieve for so long (like the one that happened last year after working on this project for 14 years!), that is an awesome moment!
Describe your current research. What is most interesting?
I am a synthetic organic chemist, which means that we make new, interesting things in my lab. I have always liked to work with my hands, and the idea of creating something that no one else has ever seen is what drew me to this field. My projects generally revolve around the creation of new, organic molecules that have the potential for interesting biological implications. One thing that organic chemists have to pay special attention to is the 3-dimensional shape of a molecule, especially if it may have biological function. Making molecules with a specific, known 3-dimensional shape is critically important -- a small change in a molecule's shape can mean very positive things (i.e., potential drug therapeutics) or very terrible outcomes (i.e., high toxicity). My biggest goal with my research, though, is educating new chemists and engaging them in my research projects so that they can leave Knox as well-trained research chemists ready to take on their next challenge..
If you weren't a professor, you would be a ___?
Well, the proper answer would be a research organic chemist working in industry. If I could be anything, I would probably be a designer working for LEGO (I have been a huge LEGO fan since I was six years old -- I have my own LEGOs as decorations in my kitchen) or a quilt shop owner (I recently started quilting in 2005 and find it relaxing, creative, and productive and, again, a way to work with my hands). I can dream about these things, even though neither is likely to be reality!
What is your favorite thing about Galesburg?
Since having children (I have 3), I have found Galesburg to be a great place to raise a family. Galesburg is not a huge town, but has plenty of opportunities while still having a small-town feel. Even though my husband and I are not originally from here, we have been happy to be able to stay in the Midwest and have made some great connections here.
What were the last three books you read?
I recently read the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins after hearing from past students that they were a great read. I was originally a bit dismayed by the premise of the series, but devoured them once I started. I also read Unforgotten by Laura Hillenbrand this summer on a tip from my dad (who is a big time WWII buff) and fell in love with her writing style, wonderful storytelling, and an amazing story of a WWII vet (as well as her own personal story). I hated to see that book come to an end, so I immediately followed that one up with Hillenbrand's first book, Seabiscuit, which was also a beautiful book (and surpasses the movie, which says a lot). I don't know what she has in the works, but I'll be sure to read whatever Hillenbrand puts out next!