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Life on the Outside: Brent Iverson

 Life on the Outside: Brent Iverson
brent iversonAlthough Brent Iverson runs and goes scuba diving to keep in shape and relax, he can’t help but make them part of his organic chemistry class. Students can get out of being tested on the systematic nomenclature of molecules (which is as fun as it sounds) on two late-semester tests if 15 percent of the class participates in a 5-kilometer run.

Iverson, a trim, self-described middle-of-the-pack marathon runner (including the Boston Marathon), wants to impress on his 20-something students the importance of exercise and the difference it can make over their lifetimes.

“It seems like a good trade-off, and what they generally find out, especially the ones who’ve never run before, is that running to stay fit isn’t so bad,” says Iverson, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

So each semester, the students take part in a 5K race.

“I make it extremely clear it’s not competitive,” Iverson says. “I find some students during the race and run with them. I think it’s real important that they realize it’s not about their race time. It’s about the people who never thought they would do it and the health benefits.”

Iverson conducts research in his own lab and in a lab he runs with George Georgiou, a biomedical engineering professor. They’ve developed an anthrax antitoxin and a technology that can be used to create better cancer and immune suppressing therapeutic antibodies. It’s been licensed to several major pharmaceutical companies.

As for diving, Iverson shows classes slides of his diving adventures at the end of a teaching chapter. Classes are rigorous and technically challenging, and the slides give students a breather.

“It allows them to decompress a little bit and reminds them that there’s more than mid-terms and finals and school out there,” Iverson says. “It’s a transition from one set of topics to another, and it allows me to talk about conserving the world’s oceans.”

The photography keeps Iverson alert underwater.

“To me one of the best parts of the whole experience is being able to take pictures. It’s an activity that requires all of your senses and concentration because you have to worry about diving and all the diving mechanics, and you also have to worry about a camera and all the photography parameters.”

Underwater, the diver is freed of some of the constraints of land.

“It’s three-dimensional. If you want to go up, you go up. If you want to spin around, you spin around. And you’re weightless the whole time.”

“Unbelievable,” he says. “It feels just like you’re flying.”

Written by Tim Green. This article also appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Focus magazine.
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Sunday, 19 November 2017

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