Pathways To Learning Hong Kong Registered School 566985 & 600733


Jon Luskin
Chemistry teacher

Qualifications: B.A.

Jon obtained a BA with High Honors in Chemistry from The Washington University in St Louis. During university, he began research in both synthetic biology, designing bacteria to generate ethanol as a carbon-neutral fuel and as a way to clean up oil spills, and in chemistry to develop the next-generation of catalysts. He also worked as a chemistry tutor, leading discussion groups and problem-solving sessions for university introductory chemistry and organic chemistry. Following university, Jon earned a CELTA and worked in Hong Kong teaching English. Shortly after, he transitioned to teaching Chemistry.

On becoming a teacher:
While teaching at university, I found that I was always drawn to communicating the concepts of science. As a child, I never considered becoming a teacher but when I considered why I studied chemistry, it originated with the mentorship and passion of my secondary school chemistry teacher and introductory chemistry teacher. Their passion for the subject and their energy imbued chemistry with an energy that was more than just a series of equations. I wanted to show young adults the value of science and how to use experimentation and scientific knowledge to inform their view of the world. I especially enjoy teaching quantum chemistry—the aspects of the world that seem antithetical to our own world-view and yet comprise all the matter around us. The challenge is finding appropriate analogies to relate the complexity to observations with which students are more familiar.

It is very exciting to see young adults understand how the minute details of the world combine into observable phenomena. With understanding the minutiae, we can build an understanding of why fireworks explode with different colours and why carbon dioxide causes global warming. As Allan Adams described when you understand the atom: “It is not that the electrons are weird; the electrons do what the electrons do… The thing that’s surprising is that lots of atoms behave like cheese and chalk.”

How other interests influence my teaching:
I am interested in politics and environmental policy and I enjoy relating current events or political debates to the chemistry that underlies the debate. Analysis of current events can help students understand the complexity of the science and how understanding chemistry can make students better consumers of news.

A chemist to reflect upon:
While not a person I admire, I find Fritz Haber fascinating. He helped developed a method for synthesizing ammonia for use in fertilisers and is therefore responsible for saving millions of lives and promoting urbanization over the last century. On the other hand, he is known as the “Father of Chemical Warfare” for his development and research of chlorine gas, used in World War I as a poison gas. Along with Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and founder of the Nobel Foundation, they are instructive in the ethics of science and the capacity for destructive inventions. More broadly, their stories remind scientists to be purposeful and ethical.

A person I find inspiring:
Kurt Vonnegut. He studied biochemistry at Cornell University in the early 1940s before serving as a soldier in World War II. When he returned he studied anthropology at the University of Chicago but dropped out when his master’s thesis was rejected. Later, he worked as an English teacher, journalist, and publicist before becoming a science-fiction novelist. The salient points in his life and his writing is his positivity, humanism, and firm sense of ethics. While his style relied heavily on irony, his writing never leaves you in doubt about his perspective.

Top tip to younger self:
Take your time! Don’t rush through just to get to a destination—it’s always better to be patient and do things right the first time.

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