Chemistry professor and former department chair Dr. Paul Farnsworth retired on June 30, 2018. Farnsworth made many contributions to the BYU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry during his tenure. His research centered on analytical spectroscopy, with an emphasis on the development of new analytical techniques and instrumentation for trace molecular and elemental analysis. He authored or coauthored ninety-eight scholarly publications. Throughout his time at BYU he has worked to build on a tradition of collegiality in his department, and to ensure that the contributions of all faculty and staff are valued and recognized.
When he became department chair, Farnsworth sensed dissonance between the professional faculty and the professorial faculty. He felt the salary structure reflected more respect for the research faculty and less respect for the teaching faculty. Farnsworth worked hard to change that perception.
“Given the university’s mission to teach undergraduates, the teaching faculty is just as critical to the department as the research faculty,” Farnsworth said. He also created a department expectations document. The document not only clearly defined and communicated expectations for the department, but also provided a model for other departments. While department chair he strove to be a balanced contributor in three ways: teaching well, maintaining an active research program, and doing his share of the service load.
One of Farnsworth’s favorite parts about being a BYU professor was working with students in the research lab. “I’ve had the privilege of working with some really good students. Seeing them get interested in science, seeing them succeed, and seeing them go on to be successful as physicians or academic scientists has been rewarding.” However, learning how to work with students effectively took years of practice. “With students there’s a lot of trial and error, because professors aren’t taught how to manage research groups,” he said. “All you know about teaching, in general, is what you observe from being in the system.”
His relationship with and attitude toward students developed over time. A turning point in his relationship with students occurred when he became bishop of a student ward. “I saw them from a completely different perspective than I saw them as a faculty member.” Learning about students’ personal struggles and about everything students balanced alongside their coursework made Farnsworth much more empathetic toward his students. His understanding of and compassion for students has led him to become a beloved and influential professor.
Farnsworth’s personal standards also helped shape him into an exceptional faculty member. On the first day of class every semester he surprised students by knowing each of their names. “It helps make a connection,” Farnsworth explained. He also always paid students who did research for him. As a former undergraduate researcher, he understood how essential it was to earn money while in school.
Charlotte Reininger conducted research for Farnsworth first as an undergraduate student and later as a graduate student. She considers him a great mentor and admires the confidence he had in his students. “He had a lot of trust in us and allowed us to show what we could do, rather than just assuming that we were just an undergraduate and couldn’t do anything,” Reininger said. “He saw the potential in us and allowed us to show what we could do.”
Farnsworth said he always made it a point to make sure undergraduates knew they weren’t just “a pair of hands for someone else.” Similar to his practice of treating all faculty members equally, he also treated both graduate and undergraduate students equally.
Farnsworth is looking forward to pursuing his interests outside of chemistry when he retires. “At least for the first year or so, I’m going to indulge in some of the hobbies that I’ve been putting aside for all this time,” he said. He looks forward to hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. He also enjoys photography. These interests likely sound familiar to students and faculty who know Farnsworth. But some of his other hobbies may be surprising. Farnsworth is interested in woodworking; he even has a woodshop in his basement.
Furthermore, Farnsworth plays the French horn and the alp horn, the iconic twelve-foot horn often pictured in scenes of Switzerland. He fell in love with the instrument when he was eight years old while visiting Switzerland with his family. “I wanted one ever since, so I finally indulged and bought one.” While Farnsworth will be busy playing the alp horn, he will be missed by his students and colleagues in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department.