Elon professor Gene Grimley takes reins of national honor society

Since coming to Elon in 1987, professor Eugene “Gene” Grimley has focused much of his energy on helping to build a strong chemistry program. He’s now turning his attention to an even bigger stage as the new president of Phi Lambda Upsilon, the national chemistry honor society with tens of thousands of active members across the United States.

Professor Eugene “Gene” Grimley

Grimley assumed the lead role on July 1 and will steer the organization for the next four years. He has already pledged to better publicize the role of the organization and to grow the number of undergraduate chemistry majors who join the order each spring.

Founded in 1899 at the University of Illinois and formally incorporated in 1913, Phi Lambda Upsilon promotes and supports high scholarship and original investigation in all branches of pure and applied chemistry.

“There are lots of good things we can do,” Grimley said recently in his office on the third floor of the McMichael Science Building. “I’m in a position that contributes not only to Elon University, but on a bigger scale, to chemistry as a whole.”

The honor society maintains a formal presence on 73 college and university campuses, including Elon, which installed its chapter last spring. About 2,500 new members are inducted nationwide each year. Since its founding, Phi Lambda Upsilon has welcomed more than 70,000 people into its rolls.

Grimley likens the honor society to Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most esteemed honor society for students studying the liberal arts and sciences. Like Phi Beta Kappa, an invitation for membership into the chemistry honor society requires prospective inductees to meet certain academic standards.

For Phi Lambda Upsilon, that means chemistry majors must maintain a GPA of 3.25 or higher. Chapters are only installed at colleges and universities that offer a bachelor of science and are approved by the American Chemical Society. “I’d like to work on our visibility, particularly on campuses,” Grimley said. “We want to lift up these students inducted into the organization as role models.”

Grimley has been a Phi Lambda Upsilon officer since 2002 when he was appointed editor of The Register, the honor society’s official publication, with minutes from its triennial congresses and abstracts of research supported through grants from the organization. Its membership then elected him in 2004 vice president.

“We make a number of awards each year and supplement individual chapters with activity grants and with travel grants,” he said. “And we recognize outstanding young professional chemists with an annual Fresenius awards of $5,000 and recognition at the spring national meetings of the American Chemical Society.”

A chemistry major at Olivet College in the 1960s, Grimley went on to earn his doctorate in inorganic chemistry from the University of Iowa. He spent the first seventeen years of his career as an associate professor at Mississippi State University, where he conducted basic research and worked as project director of a cooperative industrial chemistry education program between the Mississippi Chemical Company and the university.

At Elon, he has twice served as department chair and is the T.E. Powell Jr. Professor of Chemistry. During his career, he has published 20 scientific papers, a text chapter, and he has made two patent disclosures while guiding graduate students and post-doctoral and visiting faculty research associates.