SPOTLIGHT: `Baby chem’ professor says goodbye

Nearly everyone has heard of GW professor Nicolae Filipescu. There are many stories about his contemporary science for non-science majors class, in which students learn about everything from birth control to drugs to nuclear fission. Yet, after 38 years of teaching at GW, the “baby chem” legend is putting down his chalk and passing out his last 100-question test. Filipescu is retiring, but only after affecting the lives of thousands of students.
Filipescu said he decided to retire from teaching this year to give more time and attention to other aspects of his life.

“Teaching has been an integral part of my life for such a long time,” Filipescu said. “I am very fond of young people and a place of learning, the process of disseminating knowledge. I am sure I’ll miss it badly.”

Freshman Adam Tanker, who is taking Filipescu’s contemporary science class, said he enjoyed it so much he said would major in chemistry if Filipescu taught all the courses.

Sophomore Chris Darmanin said Filipescu’s class was one of the most interesting and entertaining lecture courses he has taken at GW. Darmanin said the funniest incident in the class occurred when Filipescu drew pictures of reproductive organs on the chalkboard and the whole class started snickering and giggling. Filipescu asked one of the students if he liked the “porno pictures,” and the whole class erupted in laughter. For the rest of the class Filipescu referred to the reproductive organs as the “porno pictures,” Darmanin said.

Filipescu developed the contemporary science class, more commonly known as Chemistry Three and Chemistry Four, in the 1970’s. He said he created the class for non-science majors. The class integrates biology, chemistry, physics and astronomy. Filipescu said he tries to teach the class so it is relevant to students’ lives. Topics of discussion include eating disorders, principles of nutrition and sexually transmitted diseases, among other subjects more traditionally associated with chemistry.

Sophomore Liza Sacks said she is glad she took Filipescu’s class to fulfill her science requirement this semester.

“I think he is a very interesting teacher who makes chemistry relate to everyday life,” Sacks said.

Michael King, chairman of the Chemistry Department, said only 30 to 40 students signed up to take the contemporary science class when it began more than 30 years ago, but today 550 students are enrolled in the class.

“(Filipescu) laid pathways in teaching especially to students who are not scientists but need to know about science to understand the world,” King said.

But Filipescu does more than teach undergraduates.

“He truly is an example of a lifelong learner,” King said. “He kept up not only in medicine but also in science technology.”

Filipescu came to GW in 1960 as a graduate student studying chemistry. In 1963 he was offered a job as an assistant professor in chemistry. After three years as an assistant professor, Filipescu took a position as an associate professor and became a full professor in 1970.

Filipescu attended GW medical school while he taught full-time and received his M.D. in 1975 in obstetrics and gynecology, graduating cum laude. Filipescu began practicing obstetrics and gynecology at the GW Medical School in 1978. He said he has delivered 4,000 to 5,000 babies. In 1993, he became a full-time clinical professor at Fairfax Hospital teaching obstetrics and gynecology.

Filipescu also teaches advanced organic chemistry, a graduate level class at GW, which he will also give up when he retires this semester. Under his direction 28 students have received their Ph.D.s.

“He taught a graduate level class as well as a contemporary science class. Not everyone can do that,” King said. “He has an outstanding scientific mind, and he’s recognized by peers in the Washington area.”

Filipescu received the Hillebrand Award in 1971, which recognizes outstanding work in photochemistry, which is the study of chemical changes intiated by light, and for distinguished contributions in the area of intramolecular energy transfer. King said students nominated Filipescu a number of times for the Trachtenberg Award, which recognizes the quality of his teaching, although he never won the award.

Filipescu said he will continue to teach at Fairfax Hospital.

He said he thinks students will never forget their contemporary science class.

“As their teacher, I think many of them will remember what they were exposed to,” he said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.