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Five Minutes with … Chemistry Chair Dr. Sabrina Sobel

Jan 2 • Chemistry, Faculty, Faculty Five, Sciences • 3030 Views • Comments Off

Dr. Sabrina Sobel has served as chair of the Chemistry Department for six and a half years. She first came to Hofstra in 1992 after completing the final two years of her graduate work as a guest researcher at Exxon. It was her father, a chemist himself, who inspired her interest in the field. They had the opportunity to collaborate on the development of Cold-Eeze, the zinc lozenge for cold therapy. In fact, Dr. Sobel, her family and friends served as test cases for the zinc lozenges before they hit the market.

What is about chemistry that initially drew you into the field? Have you enjoyed science since you were a kid?

My father is an organic chemist who worked in the pharmaceutical industry. He shared with me the joy of chemistry and taught me high school chemistry.

What do you most enjoy about teaching chemistry?

I enjoy the interaction with the students. My challenge is to find a way to explain a concept or skill in a way that the student gets it, and gets the value of the knowledge. I enjoy mentoring undergraduates in research and helping them mature to the next level in their careers.

You studied ballet for many years. Why did you stop? What do you most enjoy about ballet?

Ballet taught me discipline and the value of working towards a difficult, long-term goal. I cannot not dance, whether I’m doing it for exercise – like Pilates-, yoga, or for fun. I studied ballet for 13 years. I dance in my lectures, too, when I need to illustrate a point. Why did I quit? Because I wasn’t good enough to go professional. Probably 1 percent of girls in tutus ever make it as professional ballerinas. That crushing disappointment taught me not to take my life so seriously and to establish balance.

Precision is an important quality that both chemistry and ballet share. Do you think that’s why they’re both so important to you?

Accuracy, precision, attention to detail and competence are all valuable. Hard work to meet tough goals is another commonality.

You are a huge admirer of Audrey Hepburn. What is your favorite Audrey Hepburn movie? Why are you such a fan?

Oh, really, what other movie could there be besides Sabrina? I love all of her movies. She was graceful, understated, humble yet strong; she worked for UNICEF for many years.

What is your favorite science-themed book?

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea is the tops. Zero is an underappreciated concept, both mathematically and philosophically. You end up feeling awe when you learn that the ancient Mayans had it right when the ancient Greeks were clueless.

You had the opportunity to work with your father on the development of zinc lozenges. What do you most value from that experience?

I loved helping my dad [John C. Godfrey] on the development, manufacture and quality control of Cold-Eeze lozenges. As soon I hit an appropriate educational level, he started treating me as a valued colleague. He included me in updates on his work, and then accepted my help when I offered it. We made a good writing team. My dad would write the first draft, and then I would add my portion and edit the whole manuscript. We would go back-and-forth on the paper until it was done to our satisfaction. My dad respected me, a gift that still brings tears to my eyes. He exhibited patience, integrity and a sharp intellect, qualities that I hope that I carry forward into the next generation with my training of students in science.

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