UB Professor Lends Chemistry Expertise as Consultant to Author of Romance Novel

Release Date: July 10, 2000 This content is archived.


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UB professor Joseph Gardella provided chemistry expertise to the author of "The Perfect Solution."

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo chemistry professor Joseph Gardella's zeal for bringing science literacy to the general public has found him playing some unique roles: sometimes as a translator of highly technical documents for local community groups, other times as a mediator between neighborhoods and local chemical companies.

Gardella recently took on his most novel role as interpreter of science for the masses when he became a science consultant to a writer of Harlequin romances.

The assignment stemmed from an email message that author Day Leclaire -- who was writing a book with a woman chemist as its heroine who was developing a new perfume based on pheromones -- sent to a number of chemists she found through a Web search. Leclaire wanted to describe accurately the woman's lab and her work, so she sought help from professional scientists.

Gardella, whose UB lab conducts research in analytical chemistry, surface science and biomaterials, described his initial reaction to the message as a "kneejerk response" to any query he receives from someone outside of academia. "As someone who put up a Web site (http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~gardella) designed to attract inquiries, I feel that I have a responsibility to respond," he said.

Was he especially intrigued by the Harlequin connection? "Of course! I thought it was a great thing, knowing the incredible popularity of those books, and I thought an author who was this concerned about being accurate on these details should be rewarded and supported."

Gardella, whose reading tastes lean more toward 1950s science fiction, noted: "Reading anything is good, so supporting readers, including young girls who read much of this genre, is a good thing."

It was for that reason, he recalled, that he was particularly interested in Leclaire's query.

"There are a number of projects -- like the Josie True video game by UB faculty member Mary Flanagan and an email pen-pal club for teen girls run by a chemistry professor at Lehigh University -- that aim to demystify science as a career track for girls," he said. "I saw

answering this message as a small way to assist in that kind of effort."

The information Gardella provided helped Leclaire develop a characterization of Jane Dearly, who would turn out to be the heroine of "The Perfect Solution," published in April. More information on the book is at http://www.dayleclaire.com/perfect.htm .

According to the author, the heroine is a chemist who hopes to develop and patent a working pheromone perfume that would prove her worth as a scientist. But her three uncles -- all renowned chemists -- have decided that Jane's excessive devotion to her work has kept her from making progress, both personally and professionally. They decide to "buy" an unsuspecting young man named Flynn at a bachelor auction. The uncles think he is a potentially perfect love interest for Jane, while Jane decides he's the ideal man to use as a test case for her pheromone perfumes, an idea that Flynn finds abhorrent.

According to Leclaire, Gardella was extremely helpful.

"I don't think I could have written this book without his input," she said. "At least it would have been extremely difficult."

Through emails and phone calls, Gardella explained to Leclaire the inner workings of a chemistry lab and answered general questions about chemistry and pheromones -- all of which helped her decide where she would go with the story.

"As with all romances, the relationship between the hero and heroine is of key importance and the primary focus of the book," said Leclaire. "The science in the story provides the background or setting that can sometimes act like a secondary character. Certainly in this book, the heroine's career, her career goals -- creating a pheromone-based perfume that actually works -- and the lab and events that happen in and around these three areas help drive the story and contribute significantly to the conflict."

For people who haven't dipped into a romance novel lately and may be surprised to find a chemist as the heroine of one, Leclaire points out that as society has changed, so have romance novels.

"The object was to give a flavor or tone to the story, not to educate," she explained.

"But certainly, I wanted the science portion to be as accurate as possible," she said, "and to give people a taste of a profession with which they may be unfamiliar and find interesting, as well as entertaining."

Gardella is included in the book's acknowledgements.

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