Humans of Central: Chemistry teacher recounts journey through labs, classrooms


Ambrose Keller

Chemistry teacher Jeromy Bentley starts a chemical reaction over his bunsen burner in his classroom lab.

Sabrina Tse, Correspondent

“I worked at Illinois State University and the grad program, and there one of the programs I worked with was making an HIV protease inhibitor; it was part of a massive multi institution project.

 I worked in the lab of Sir Fraser Stoddard, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for molecular electronics.

One of my [jobs] was nanolithography. I worked in the lab of Dr. Sin Po Hong in the College of Pharmacy. We worked on creating a method of delivering chemotherapy drugs to a target site. 

One successful one was working in Dr. Andreas Liniger’s lab. He developed a theory that you could use magnetism to deliver a chemotherapy drug attached to a nanoparticle that was magnetic. The team had gotten to a certain point [before] they recruited me to work in the lab to get the chemotherapy drug to stick to the nanoparticle. I spent 10 weeks there during the summer trying to go to get it to work and nothing worked every single time.

Another reason they recruited me is because I did the gold work with Stoddard earlier. I was walking around outside one day just trying to collect my thoughts and stuck my feet in some gum and literally thought if it’s that simple, this is insane. So when I hadn’t tried to put this gum-based structure onto the nanoparticle, to [then] put the chemotherapy drug on the nanoparticle to stick with it, and it was successful.

I don’t know where the research is gone, but I just know that I was tasked with putting the actual drug onto the nanoparticle and having it delivered into the nucleus. It was a pretty big success. 

Before I had a family, I would say I was pretty involved with doing research in that regard as a consultant and what not, too, but I used to tutor outside of school. But a lot of the time now, since having my children, has been spent with them. [I’ve been] going to some practices and ballet and things of that nature. Their interests have become my interests. 

I primarily became a teacher because I was a TA in high school for a year. And I worked with students who struggled a lot. It was a positive experience for them, and for me in the fact that I kind of found a niche of being able to try to word things in such a way that students could understand. I wanted to become a teacher there.

I then went to Illinois State University and I became a chemistry and biology double bachelor’s degree to my student teaching, and I honestly didn’t really like my student teaching experience. I did not enjoy it whatsoever. I was a TA for the Chem 102 course, which is the lowest level course they have for non-majors, and I was in charge of the entire lab. I was lab coordinator for other grad students and we ran 18 sections a week.

So during that time, I kind of felt that I was pulled in two directions,:one was with the research and the other one was with the education and working with students. And ultimately, I wanted to work with students. I just kind of realized that I was decent, at least, at working with students. 

I remember seeing a movie that was animated called “The Sword in the Stone.” There was a wizard called Merlin, and Merlin threw a whole bunch of different things into a cauldron and made pink bubbles. And they actually made it a meme I think but I tried to replicate that as a 5 or 6 year old, so I got in the medicine cabinet. I put Pepto Bismol and Alka Seltzer into the toilet bowl. That was my cauldron, and I made pink bubbles. Then of course, I poured something else and it made purple bubbles, and I wanted to know why that happened. My curiosity and desire to go into chemistry probably came from a really early age. It’s been a long road.”