Computers and Chemistry
Gene Inman PhD’82 recalls when computers weren’t an everyday part of STEM education and research. When he began at UF in 1978, the university had a centralized computing system. In the nascent age of the personal computer, Inman sought to integrate computer science with chemistry. It was a natural progression for Inman, who double majored in mathematics and chemistry at a small private liberal arts college in Winona Lake, Ind. “In high school in the ’70s, there wasn’t the focus on the sciences or STEM there is now. But science and math – that was my interest in high school, driven by a couple of teachers I had.”
Inman found a home at UF, under the guidance of Professor Jim Winefordner, who graduated 169 PhD students in chemistry over his career at UF.
(Winefordner also mentored Nancy Crews ’70 and Marilyn Black M’71.) “I knew I wanted to be a chemist, but not what type,” says Inman. Winefordner led Inman toward analytical chemistry, while Inman supplemented his studies with a bachelor’s degree worth of computer science courses. “My research was on a computer-controlled lab instrument, so that combined my interests,” he says.
After completing his PhD in 1982, Inman began a three-decade career commercializing products at the pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis, Ind. Beyond his industrial contributions, Inman worked hard to change the culture at Lilly by taking risks and recruiting new people. He sees his interdisciplinary, risk-taking philosophy reflected in that of one of his heroes, Steve Spurrier, who he says emphasized recruiting good people and re-envisioning the status quo to bring teams to a higher level. It worked. “By the time I retired, I was promoted to vice-president level. Up until that time, there had never been an analytical chemist promoted to VP. Now that I’ve retired, they’ve phased it out,” he says.
Inman has recently returned to Gainesville and continues to support UF, having recruited more than a dozen PhD candidates while at Lilly. He currently serves as the chair of the Leadership Board for the UF Chemistry Department, with his philosophy of “thinking different.” He mentions Spurrier’s signature visor, donned when most coaches wore caps. “In Florida, it’s cooler,” he observes dryly.