By Evangeline Ciupek
Childress, Texas — Young Darrell Watson excitedly received a present from his father—a chemistry set.
“I think (my father) was a little bit sorry, because I almost burned down our garage,” Dean of the College of Sciences Watson said. “But he was patient and always encouraged me … in science or basically anything I want.”
His first chemistry course during his sophomore year of college, was taught by an enthusiastic instructor.
“I just fell in love with chemistry after that,” Watson said.
In 1983, the National Institutes of Health gave Dr. Harold Kohn a grant to produce a medicine to control seizures. The anticonvulsants on the market damaged patients’ livers. NIH was looking for a safer medication. Watson joined Kohn’s development team at the University of Houston.
“I was kind of … a hired gun …. In all, there were about five of us that worked on the patent and the material,” Watson said.
That summer, he finished the compound: a dipeptide formed from two amino acids.
“It’s not all natural … but it is made from natural starting materials,” he said.
A gram of the medicine was sent to the NIH for testing.
At Bowling Green State University in 1998, Watson created a sensitizer molecule for stereolytho-graphy, the process of solidifying liquid plastic with a laser.
“An item … that took anywhere from six to eight hours, with my new compound (took) less than two.”
In 1992, Watson started Chem Camp, a yearly summer camp for elementary school kids.
In 1994, he became dean of the College of Sciences.
During National Chemistry Week in October, the Sigma Pi Chemistry Club puts on Demos in the Dark.
“Anything that goes boom and burns, I like it.” Watson said.
Senior chemistry and cell biology double-major Shannon Woodruff said, “We get a pretty good crowd with people coming in from as far as Cameron and Copperas Cove.”
Secretary Lisa Maiden, has worked with Watson four years, and attends every year with her daughter.
“There are exciting chemical demonstrations set to music, glowing chemical reactions, controlled explosions, cannons that shoot T-shirts and Nerf footballs,” Maiden said. “The children can make slime, and the students serve liquid nitrogen slushies.”
In the summer, Watson’s students help him research, thanks to a $25,000 Welch grant.
“He’s always willing to help his students in any fashion whatsoever,” Woodruff said.
During the school semesters, they go to public schools “to get them excited about science,” Watson said.
He hopes chemistry students stay motivated.
“Perhaps they’ll go into industry, making new plastics or making better fuels. And I would encourage them very much to do that. Even though the path is a long and hard one … I think that it will be rewarding for them.”
Watson is happily married and has three children.
“And not a one of them is in science,” Watson said.
Woodruff said, “Dr. Watson is dedicated to the furthering of chemical and science education. It’s not very often that you find someone so dedicated to something like that.”
The anticonvulsant he helped create was patented in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, and it’s used today in European hospitals.
“This is another tool in their arsenal to work on epilepsy,” Watson said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is still conducting human trials with the drug.
“It will probably take another year and a half, at least, before it can be finished here in the U.S.,” he said. “I think we should be careful and very slow in our approach, but sometimes just think about how many people are suffering until some of these drugs are actually released here.”
While waiting for the medicine to pass inspection, Watson continues to use his passion for chemistry to inspire the next generation.
“I’ve not been particularly smart or good, but I’ve been very lucky that I’ve had great people I work for,” Watson said. “The Lord’s just led me in the right way, and I think that as a result things have gone well for me.”