Lori Watson, Ph.D.

Professor of chemistry

Email:[email protected]

Department: Biochemistry

Program: Honors Program

Location: Stanley Hall Room 239
801 National Road
Richmond, Indiana 47374

About me

I am a chemist, a synthetic and computational organometallic chemist, if you want to be precise. Each summer, I work with students on collaborative research. Most recently, my group researched a piece of the puzzle of cleaner energy: basic ligands and their role in the earliest steps of the catalytic cycle. I am also a faculty adviser for the Questing Catholics student group, led a first-year seminar on “Faith, Reason, and Imagination” and co-led a Ford/Knight research project entitled “Is That Funny? Religion and Humor.”

In Summer 2017, I and other collaborators were selected for a five-year $1.1 million grant to develop curricula and promote best practices in the teaching of inorganic chemistry. The National Science Foundation-funded project will expand the work of the Interactive Online Network of Inorganic Chemists (IONiC), which I co-founded with chemists from other leading liberal arts colleges like Harvey Mudd, Hope and Reed.

I love to weave baskets, bake lots of bread, and work in my backyard garden. I enjoy reading lots of science fiction and fantasy. I have an interest in biblical and liturgical theology. I enjoy cooking, especially with students, and love hiking, particularly in Appalachia.

The answer to why I choose to teach at Earlham is simple–the students! Earlham students are curious and passionate and bright. They’re willing to dig in, learn how to do new things and work collaboratively to achieve a common goal. They are connected with others around our community and around the world. They take advantage of every moment and every experience. As a small, selective liberal arts college Earlham not only allows me to teach small classes and labs but also work with students in collaborative student-faculty research in the very best facilities and using state of the art instrumentation. As a Quaker institution, Earlham takes seriously the search for truth, the nurturing of a community based in principles of integrity, respect, and simplicity, and working for a more just and peaceful world.


  • Ph.D., Indiana University
  • M.T.S., St. Meinrad School of Theology
  • B.S., University of Kentucky, Lexington

Professional memberships

Research projects

Collaborative student research experiences

Each summer I work with a group of students doing student-faculty collaborative research.  This past summer we worked on a computational chemistry project investigating using π-basic ligands to split the hydrocarbon bond. The cheap, selective catalytic conversion of the C-H bond in hydrocarbons to a functionalized C-heteroatom bond remains a central challenge in the fields of alternative energy, organic synthesis, and polymer chemistry. Platinum group metals hold forth tremendous promise for the catalytic activation and functionalization of these unactivated C-H bonds. A major stumbling block in the rational design of catalysts to effect these transformations has been a lack of fundamental understanding of how the electronic structure of the supporting ligands affect each fundamental step of the catalytic cycle. While knowing the ligand characteristics that enhance the first step of the cycle is but one piece of the overall puzzle, it would be a key advance in our search for cleaner energy. Last summer’s work studied the effect of various ligands on four model catalytic systems, including both Ir and Pt metal centers. Each of the newly designed ligands with Ir and Pt showed a marked improvement in the thermodynamics of the C-H activation reactions from previously published ligand systems.

Scholarly interest

I am a synthetic and computational organometallic chemist primarily interested in unsaturated transition metal catalysts used for C-X activation. I have a secondary interest in the coordination chemistry of Lanthanide and Actinide complexes used for Ln/Ac separation chemistry.  I am also interested in teaching and learning in inorganic chemistry and am a founding member of the IONiC Leadership Council (Interactive Online Network of Inorganic Chemists) which has launched VIPEr (www.ionicviper.org), an online resource to support a virtual community of practice for improving inorganic chemistry education.

Published works

Recent Publications:

Smith, S. A.; Collins, S.; Eppley, H. E.; Geselbracht, M. J.;  Jamieson, E. R.; Johnson, A. R.; Nataro, C.; Reisner, B. A.; Stewart, J. L. Watson, L. A.; Williams, B. S. “VIPEr: An Online Academic Resource Enhancing Undergraduate Research,” CUR Quarterly, Web Vignette: Winter, 2013. Vol. 34, No. 2. http://www.cur.org/assets/1/23/Winter2013_v34.2_vignettes4.PDF

de Sahb, C.; Watson, L. A.; Nadas, J.; Hay, B. P. “Design Criteria for Polyazine Extractants” Inorg. Chem.201352, 10632-10642.

Custelcean, R.; Bonnesen, P. V.; Duncan, N. C.; Zhang, X.; Watson, L. A.; Van Berkel, G.; Parson, W.; Hay, B. P. “Urea-Functionalized M4L6 Cage Receptors: Anion-Templated Self-Assembly and Selective Guest Exchange in Aqueous Solutions” J. Am. Chem. Soc.2012134, 8525–8534.

Vukovic, S.; Watson, L. A.; Kang, S. O.; Custelcean, R.; Hay, B. P. “How Amidoximate Binds the Uranyl Cation” Inorg. Chem.201251, 3855–3859.

Jamieson, E. R.; Eppley, H. E.; Geselbracht, M. J.; Johnson, A. R. Reisner, B. A.; Smith, S. A.; Stewart, J. L. Watson, L. A.; Williams, B. S. Inorganic Chemistry and “IONiC: An Online Community Bringing Cutting-Edge Research into the Classroom”, Inorg. Chem.201150, 5849-5854.

Watson, L. A.; Hay, B. P. “Role of the Uranyl Oxo Group as a Hydrogen Bond Acceptor,” Inorg. Chem.201150, 2599-2605.

Reisner, B. A.; Eppley, H. J.; Geselbracht, M.; Jamieson, E. R.; Johnson, A. J.; Smith, S.R.; Stewart, J. L.; Watson, L. A.; Williams, B. S. “Building an Online Teaching Community: An Evolving Tale of Communication, Collaboration, and Chemistry.” ACS Symposium Series: Enhancing Learning with Online Resources, Social Networking, and Digital Libraries2010, Belford, R.; Moore, J.; Pence, H. (Eds.). Chapter 16, pp 309-330.

Watson, L. A., Geselbracht, M. J., and Reisner, B. A. “Inorganic Chemistry Learning Objects for Use in the General Chemistry Curriculum: Athletic Periodic Trends.” J. Chem. Ed.201087, 756.

Benatan, E., Dene, J., Eppley, H. J., Geselbracht, M. J., Jamieson, E. R., Johnson, A. R., Reisner, B. A., Stewart, J. L., Watson, L. and Williams, B. S. “JCE VIPEr: An Inorganic Teaching and Learning Community.” J. Chem. Ed.200986, 766.

Benatan, E., Eppley, H. J., Geselbracht, M. J., Johnson, A. R., Reisner, B. A., Stewart, J. L., Watson, L. and Williams, B. S. “IONiC: A Cyber-Enabled Community of Practice for Improving Inorganic Chemical Education.” J. Chem. Ed., 2009 , 86, 123.

Benatan, E., Dene, J., Eppley, H., Geselbracht, M., Jamieson, E., Johnson, A., Reisner, B., Stewart, J., Watson, L. and Williams, B. “Come for the Content, Stay for the Community,” in Innovative Practices for Challenging Times, Academic Commons. (http://www.academiccommons.org/2014/09/16/come-for-the-content-stay-for-the-community/September 2009).

Gerber, L. C. H.; Watson, L. A.; Parkin, S.; Wang, W.; Foxman, B. M.; Ozerov, O. V. “Bis(methylidene) Complex of Tantalum Supported by a PNP Ligand.” Organometallics200726, 4866.

Ozerov, O.; Watson, L. A.; Pink, M.; Caulton, K. G. “Operationally Unsaturated Pincer/Rhenium Complexes form Metal Carbenes from Cycloalkenes and Metal Carbynes from Alkanes.” J. Am. Chem. Soc.2007129, 6003.

Selected Recent External Grants:

Lori Watson (Earlham College, PI), Barbara Reisner (James Madison University, co-PI), Sheila Smith (University of Michigan-Dearborn, co-PI), Melanie S. Sanford (Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, co-PI); Raymond Schaak (Penn State Univ., co-PI); Hilary Eppley (DePauw University), Margret Geselbracht (Reed College), Elizabeth Jamieson (Smith College), Adam Johnson (Harvey Mudd College), Joanne Stewart (Hope College), and Scott Williams (The Claremont Colleges Joint Science Department), National Science Foundation, TUES Phase 2, “IONiC: Transforming education through collaborative development of materials at the frontiers of inorganic chemistry,” $437,962, September 2012-August 2016.

Deibel, M. A. (PI), Blair, P. L., Rosenburg, R. L., Seu, K. J., Smith, R. K., Smith, C. R., Stocksdale, M. G., Tori, W. P., Watson, L. A.; “Renovation of a Shared Facility for Research and Research Training at a Science-Rich Liberal Arts Institution”, National Science Foundation: Academic Research Infrastructure$807,794, September 2010.

Joanne Stewart (Hope College, PI), Hilary Eppley (DePauw University), and Lori Watson (Earlham College) “Come for the content, stay for the community: Building a vibrant community of practice among GLCA chemists,” Great Lakes College Association New Directions Initiative$15,700, January 2010.

Hilary Eppley (DePauw University, PI), Margret Geselbracht (Reed College), Adam Johnson (Harvey Mudd College), Barbara Reisner (James Madison University), Joanne Stewart (Hope College), Lori Watson (Earlham College) and Scott Williams (the Claremont Colleges Joint Science Department) “IONiC: A Cyber-Enabled Community of Practice for Improving Inorganic Chemical Education,” National Science Foundation: CCLI Phase 1$149,374, August 2007.

Deibel, M. A. (PI), Deibel, C., Watson, L. A.; Parker, R.; Streepey, M.; Peck, C.; Jackson, M.; Iverson, J.; Matlock, D. “Computational and Multidisciplinary Curriculum and Research Initiative” W. M. Keck Foundation$360,000, January 2007.