Published May 26, 2021

By Leslie Garisto Pfaff

Rutgers professor emeritus Lionel Goodman wants to spark creativity among undergraduates and doctoral students seeking answers to intriguing questions.

In his three and a half decades as a chemistry professor at Rutgers, Lionel Goodman taught students of every caliber. Many were motivated, some were driven, and a few were brilliant. But the students that Goodman, now a professor emeritus of chemistry and chemical biology, most loved teaching were those who exhibited creativity that sprang from a sense of curiosity, whatever their majors.

Goodman, who taught at Rutgers from 1968 to 2005, recently made a generous bequest to support undergraduate Honors Program and doctoral students enrolled at the School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University–New Brunswick. Through the bequest, Goodman wants to encourage outside-the-box ideas by providing funds for students to attend relevant meetings and conferences.

portrait of lionel goodman at his princeton home
Lionel Goodman at his Princeton home (Photos by John O’Boyle)

His bequest, he says, will support early stages of the kinds of ideas that led to CRISPR, the gene-editing tool that eventually won its developers a Nobel Prize in chemistry. Goodman hopes to encourage students “to attend meetings of interest, to go where their heart takes them.”

Goodman himself was given an opportunity to follow his heart while he was a graduate student pursuing theoretical chemistry at Iowa State University. With his adviser, he attended a spectroscopy conference, where reports of molecular luminescence experiments stimulated him to become involved in experimental molecular spectroscopy. In 1966, a Guggenheim Fellowship enabled him to study laser experiments being carried out at the Nobel Prize-winning Kastler Brossel Laboratory in Paris. “The experience,” he says, “altered my thinking about the type of experiments I wanted to do.”

Although Goodman isn’t a Rutgers alumnus, he says he chose the university as the object of his generosity both because he valued his interactions with some remarkable students here and because the university encouraged creativity among the faculty. “Ed Bloustein’s office door was always open to a serious course idea,” he recalls of Rutgers’ president from 1971 to 1989. One of those ideas was for a course Goodman developed called “Scientific Creativity,” in which he explored some of history’s most innovative minds, including Johannes Kepler, Albert Einstein, James Watson, and Francis Crick. “The course,” says Goodman, “was always ‘sold out,’ and I probably taught it half a dozen times. I required an interview to enroll, and some of the students tended to stay in contact afterward.”

Goodman’s attraction to creative thinking isn’t limited to the sciences, and his bequest isn’t the only instance of his largesse toward the university. A passionate art collector, he has donated a number of works by the modernist painter James Ensor to the Zimmerli Art Museum, so that the museum might have, he says, “a kind of a niche, a small collection not present in museums in Princeton or New York.” It’s no coincidence that Ensor, whose style and approach to painting were outside the box, displayed the same qualities Goodman hopes to promote with his bequest.

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