Dr. Deborah Bromfield Lee Connects Chemistry to What Students Already Know

Mar 7, 2023

by FSC Staff

Dr. Deborah Bromfield Lee, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Florida Southern College, teaches courses that have made the “hardest classes in college” list on more than a few campuses.

Dr. Bromfield Lee with students
Dr. Bromfield Lee with students Alayna Nardone and Isabel Augustine.

Her courses require students to learn chemical reactions, scientific nomenclature, and molecular theory. Since joining the FSC faculty in 2012, Dr. Bromfield Lee has been trying to help her students find the formula for success.

Born and raised in St. Andrew on the Caribbean Island of Jamaica, Dr. Bromfield Lee took A' Levels courses, which are the U.S. equivalent to the first year of college. After completing those courses in Jamaica, she came to the U.S. and earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

When she started college, she had a dream of being a pathologist. At one point she also wanted to be a Physics major, before eventually deciding to major in chemistry because chemistry was the most applicable science to medicine.

“I fell more in love with chemistry,” Dr. Bromfield Lee said. “I went on to earn my master’s in Chemistry (from Florida Atlantic University) and felt drawn to finding ways to educate students in chemistry, so I obtained a Ph.D. in Chemistry (from North Carolina State University).”

Her doctoral research focused on undergraduate lab development especially for students with visual disabilities, with an emphasis on organic chemistry, the study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions, and preparation of carbon-containing compounds. Organic chemistry is a laboratory-based science that involves the production of organic compounds from scratch. It leads to the synthesis of numerous useful products, including agricultural chemicals, cosmetics, drugs, enzymes, food additives, paint, plastics, and various synthetic materials.

Dr. Bromfield Lee specialized in organic synthesis. Her current research projects are related to organic chemistry synthesis and education.

“I teach Organic Chemistry I and II, courses that are notoriously hated for many reasons,” she said. “As such, many students enter the course already feeling defeated before taking it. Though I maintain rigor in my courses, I try to break down the topics in simple ways, but always connecting back to things students have learned before. I also try to encourage them as much as possible, but not delude them about the effort they need to put in. Outside of class, I try to be gentle and supportive, giving advice and helping when I can.”

Dr. Bromfield Lee organic chemistry lab research presentaion
Dr. Bromfield Lee and Jarah Nelson '23 at the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference

Dr. Bromfield Lee and her students have an organic chemistry lab designed to help students with visual disabilities function more independently. Chemistry major Jarah Nelson ’23 presented about the project in Miami at the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference on Feb. 18, 2023.

Organic chemistry labs that incorporate green chemistry principles, the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances, are an area Dr. Bromfield Lee focuses on.

“Some of my students are currently working on a chemical reaction in one of our experiments called the Wittig reaction,” Dr. Bromfield Lee said. “The methods used involve a solid support material that helps to eliminate a byproduct of the reaction, triphenyl phosphine oxide, that is often hard to remove in the reaction by keeping it on a resin, hence requiring less purification. I have developed experiments in which students modify solvents or heating methods to ‘green’ the reaction.”

In some of their organic synthesis lab work, Dr. Bromfield Lee and her students make small organic molecules that have applications to either electronics, medicine, or plastic development.

“Three of my students are trying to make libraries of molecules or extract molecules that have applications in antibiotics and anticancer activities,” Dr. Bromfield Lee said. “In these projects, they also use green chemistry principles to drive their reaction choices.”

Dr. Bromfield Lee shares a “molecule of the week” in her organic chemistry courses. The molecule of the week usually has a real-life application.

Her Honors course is currently addressing sustainability and the environment. The course covers climate change, food waste, plastic problems, and pollution. It will later address agriculture, the media, and politics as those topics relate to the environment.

“I enjoy learning about environmental issues, food, and the history of science” she said. “I love learning about death and forensic pathology as well, which surprises people.”

Dr. Deborah Bromfield Lee teaches courses in Chemistry learning community, Chemistry of food and cooking, Medical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, honors courses, and research. She also advises students, maintains instrumentation for her department, chairs the curriculum committee for the College, and is a faculty advisor for Gamma Sigma Epsilon Chemistry Honor Society.

She has been married for 17 and a half years and has two dogs. She loves cooking, baking, and gardening. She also likes mini golf and has had a lesson on kite surfing, which she hopes to continue.

Dr. Bromfield Lee with students at Boys and Girls Club
Dr. Bromfield Lee with students at Boys and Girls Club after doing activities with the 4th and 5th graders.