category: Campus News

Old laboratory notebooks bring back memories for C-N chemistry alumni

(Nov. 20, 2013) Sixty-year-old student lab notebooks are generating great interest among Carson-Newman University Chemistry Department alumni.

The books, kept as part of a program that fostered innovative undergraduate student research, reflect the significance of cancer drug studies led by Dr. Carl Tabb Bahner, C-N professor from 1937-73.

Maintained by student-researchers as they developed chemical compounds under Bahner’s tutelage, the books were retained as ancillary materials long after the compounds themselves had been sent to an international repository. The compounds themselves continue to receive some attention as scientists and doctors look for “silver bullets” to combat cancer and other diseases.

When Dr. Kenneth Morton learned the repository no longer needed Carson-Newman to hang on to the original notes, he wondered if those who made them might like to have them back. The response thus far “has been tremendous,” he said.

“You have to understand that a lab book can be an emotional thing,” Morton explained. “There are calculations, ideas and output from instruments… It’s pieces of ink on pieces of paper, but it’s so much more than that. It represents thought processes, challenges, failures and successes. You have to learn to keep going regardless of how you feel, so they also demonstrate tenacity.”

The 150 or so books represent the work of 105 students from 1937, Bahner’s first year on C-N’s faculty, until the 1980s, when the then-retired professor oversaw student research in a NSF-funded summer program. As best Morton can tell, some two-thirds of the authors are alive, and he communicated with them via addresses he collected through C-N’s alumni records.

Dozens of happy alums have already jumped at the chance to revisit the work they accomplished and the corresponding notes they made years ago, some more than a half-century ago.

Along with nostalgia and goodwill, the response to the pads, journals and binders is generating growth in a study scholarship established to honor Bahner and his wife Catherine, both of whom died several years ago.

The news that he will have his lab journal, coupled with the fact the compounds still have scientific value, “absolutely astounded” Dr. Peter Neblett, a 1953 alumnus and semi-retired California orthopedic surgeon. He said waiting to receive some of his undergraduate work has caused him to reflect on the professor as well as the research.

“Oh, he was a great man; no question about that,” he said of Dr. Bahner. “He was kind and very intelligent. I thought he was a great instructor and I admired him very much.”

A list of notebooks and authors is available through the Chemistry Department. Those interested in more information should call 865-471-3250 or email

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