Mary Virginia Orna, PhD, Professor Emerita of Chemistry, College of New Rochelle, New York
Mary Virginia Orna, PhD, is Professor Emerita of Chemistry, College of New Rochelle, New York. Her academic specialties are in the areas of color chemistry and archaeological chemistry. She is an ACS Councilor for the Division of the History of Chemistry and has served on numerous ACS committees over the past thirty years.
Her more recent books include The Chemical History of Color (2013), Science History: A Traveler’s Guide (2014), The Lost Elements: The Periodic Table’s Shadow Side (2015), Sputnik to Smartphones: A Half-Century of Chemistry Education (2015), Carl Auer von Welsbach: Chemist, Inventor, Entrepreneur (2017), Chemistry’s Role in Food Production and Sustainability: Past and Present (2019) and Archaeological Chemistry: A Multidisciplinary Analysis of the Past (2020).
She is presently preparing a book under contract with the Royal Society of Chemistry, March of the Pigments. She has thirteen other authored, co-authored or edited books on chemical education and history of chemistry to her credit. She is also the recipient of numerous chemical education and service awards, the latest being the American Chemical Society 2021 HIST Award “for her original research in the area of color and pigment chemistry.”
In 1989, she was designated the New York State Professor of the Year and National Gold Medalist. In 1994 she served as a Fulbright Fellow in Israel. Her hobby is constructing crossword puzzles; she has contributed many of these to the New York Times and to many ACS publications as well. She is a religious of the Ursulines of the Roman Union.
What is the one essential piece of personal tech you always travel with?
This question is a no-brainer: my phone, of course. It functions as a means of communication on every level: voice, internet, and is a built in travel agent as well, with the correct apps.
Window or aisle?
I always try to get an aisle seat.
Apart from the spectacular view of Manhattan when flying into LaGuardia, a window does not grab me. However, since chemists are always interested in determining the degrees of freedom of a chemical reaction, I, as a chemist traveler, am always glad to have more degrees of freedom as afforded by an aisle seat. I never mind it when people with fewer degrees of freedom want to crawl over me to reach the aisle.
Where would your dream business trip take you? What appeals to you about this destination?
I’ll pass on this question since I’ve been to just about any place I’d ever like to travel to. There are no items on my bucket list.
Airport you are highly motivated to avoid, if at all possible?
Cincinnati. Why? This is usually an airport that I have to travel through in order to connect to another flight. The problem is that usually the connecting flight is a small plane and leaves from a terminal that has to be reached by a shuttle bus and the gates do not have jetways there – you must lug your luggage up and down stairs. Some other airports have the same arrangement, but they are not nearly as inconvenient as this one. In item 9, you will hear more about Cincinnati.
How do you pass the time while flying?
I usually meditate or read a book I’ve brought with me. I never watch films, but when available, I always turn on the flight information option to see how far we have traveled and time to destination.
What is your go-to snack to bring on-board the plane?
I don’t usually snack while traveling, so I carry nothing with me by way of food unless it is lunch.
Favorite ACS meeting site? Hands down, San Diego. Why?
The hotels surround the convention center, everything is on the water, which is very refreshing, there are very pleasant places to walk along the water, even when rushing from one session to another, and the Gaslamp District is not far away – with some really nice but inexpensive restaurants. Also, when the Padres are playing at home, there is an opportunity to attend a ball game. And if there is time, a visit to the San Diego Zoo is always a welcome few hours off; even just a quick visit to Balboa Park is wonderful.
What do you do to alleviate jet lag?
I simply ignore it, but the trick is not to allude to the time zone change – just change your watch and adapt to the present time zone. Less bother.
Was there a business trip you have taken that went particularly badly?
Yes, and it originated in the Cincinnati airport. What happened? Upon arriving at the airport (which is really in northern Kentucky, by the way), I was confronted with the news that my connecting flight had been cancelled. I then learned that this had happened to everyone else in the airport and that there were people lined up in parallel multiple lines trying to reach a service desk.
We were also informed (impersonally, of course) that due to very bad weather on the east coast, there would be no flights going in that direction for the next three days. As we listened to that announcement, my eyes met those of a gentleman in the next line over and at the same time, I muttered that it would be better to rent a car. He heard me and asked where I was going and when I said “Newark,” his eyes lit up and said he was going to Easton (PA). We both left the line, rushed to the nearest auto rental counter, and snagged one of the last rental cars available.
We drove through ice and snow all night up through eastern Ohio to I-80 and then across Pennsylvania, taking turns driving. I dropped him at Easton, continued on to Newark, dropped the car, picked up my parked vehicle there and got back to New Rochelle just in time for my 9:00 AM class – only to learn that it had been cancelled.
Your best business travel tip for readers of ACS Industry Matters?
Like a good Scout, be prepared for anything.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.