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The Texas A&M Chemistry mole poses with several chemistry students at the 2022 Chemistry Open House
The Texas A&M Chemistry mole poses during the 2022 Chemistry Open House with Texas A&M chemist Soon Mi Lim (second from right) and a few members of her CHEM 316 class who volunteered to help with the popular annual outreach event. | Image: Soon Mi Lim

Reveille is recognized the world over as the First Lady of Aggieland and Texas A&M University’s official mascot. However, Bryan-College Station locals and anyone who has ever attended the annual Texas A&M Chemistry Open House and Science Exploration Gallery can claim familiarity (if not also a keepsake photograph) with the campus’s lesser-known mascot: the Chemistry mole.

Officially known as Professor Molenium, the character makes regular appearances at all types of science outreach events along with the occasional command performance, including the Aug. 23 College of Arts and Sciences Launch Party held in conjunction with 2022 Howdy Week. The good professor has been a Chemistry Open House mainstay since 2010, the same year Texas A&M Instructional Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and longtime event coordinator Wendy Keeney-Kennicutt was inspired to order a Texas A&M-customized mole suit after seeing one at an American Chemical Society conference.

The Chemistry mole with Texas A&M chemistry graduate student Courtney Dickie
Simon North as the Chemistry mole with 2018 Texas A&M chemistry Ph.D. graduate and part-time mole Courtney Dickie as his handler. | Image: Joanna Goodey-Pellois

The tongue-in-cheek concept uses the common animal of the same name to inspire students of all ages to learn more about one of chemistry’s most basic units of measurement  — the mole, as explained by Texas A&M chemist Joanna Goodey-Pellois, who served as Chemistry Open House event coordinator in 2013 and 2014.

“A mole is like a chemist’s dozen,” Goodey-Pellois said. “It’s just a very big number, because atoms weigh on the order of 10^-24 grams. Anytime chemists are handling gram amounts of substances, they are handling moles of that substance.”

By definition, a mole or mol is a standard scientific unit for measuring large quantities of very small entities, such as atoms, molecules and other specific particles. It designates an extremely large number of units  602,214,076,000,000,000,000,000, to be precise, or in short form known as Avogadro’s number, 6.02 x 1023. Mole Day is celebrated every year on Oct. 23 from 6:02 a.m. to 6:02 p.m. in commemoration.

“It’s hard to visualize just how big a mole is, but if you covered the continental U.S. in a mole of un-popped popcorn kernels, the kernels would stack up to a depth of nearly nine miles,” Goodey-Pellois said. “My colleague Christian Hilty gives this example in his class.”

Texas A&M chemist and First Year Chemistry Program instructor Daniel Collins has served since 2015 as the primary mole mascot, a role originated by fellow chemist and current department head Simon North. Dozens of chemistry graduate students — including North Research Group member Ashley (Britt) Moran '24 at the aforementioned ArtSci Launch Party  — also have spent time under science-outreach-inspired cover through the years in the name of educational excitement and encouraging fun.

Texas A&M chemist Simon North in the Chemistry mole suit, minus the head piece and hands
North, getting into character for the 2013 Chemistry Open House. | Image: Joanna Goodey Pellois

Due to the suit’s materials and complexity, North says it must be hand-cleaned after each use — an “other duties as assigned” task that falls to Sandy Horton, program coordinator in the Chemistry Graduate Office. During the past two decades, she has had to make a variety of minor repairs, including sewing new elastic onto the mole’s trademark green safety goggles.

“I was indeed the mole in the past,” North said. “There are shifts so that no one faints. First shift is good, but beyond that, it doesn’t matter how often it is cleaned.”

While its creature comforts are limited, Goodey-Pellois says the suit does include an optional ice-pack vest that can be worn under the costume, along with a fan in its head that Texas A&M Chemistry staff electrician Tim Pehl has had to fix on more than one occasion. The mole also has to have a handler to make sure that he doesn’t fall down any stairs.

If you’re curious, you can meet the ACS moles (there are two in addition to Professor Molenium) or read on to learn more from the current man behind the Texas A&M Chemistry mole, 2020 McGraw Hill ALEKS All-Star Educator and 2022 Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching recipient Dan Collins, who graciously took time out with ArtSci MarComm to answer the following questions:

How long have you been the Texas A&M Chemistry mole, and how exactly did you get the job?

I've been the mole since Open House in 2015. As the new faculty at that time, the joke was that the "newbie" had to go in the mole suit, so it was between me or Ed Lee. First time I saw it, I was 100% on board and put the head on. Since then, anytime anyone wants the mole at their event, I love to do it.

The Chemistry mole poses with three children at the 2022 Texas A&M Chemistry Open House
Texas A&M chemist Daniel Collins, a.k.a., the Chemistry mole, poses with a few of his adoring fans at the most recent Chemistry Open House on Oct. 15. | Image: Chris Jarvis

What do you think you/the mole bring to the various events you attend?

It brings a level of joy and happiness to people of all ages. Many kids might start out being scared of a 7-foot mole, but with a few waves and a high-five, most of them have a huge smile on their face. When it comes to older kids, it is great to take pictures, and even with high school students, many of them take selfies with the mole for extra credit in their chemistry courses. People might not know of the mole unit, but when they see the mascot, they sure love something chemistry specific.

What's your favorite part about being the Chemistry mole?

The best part are group pictures with science clubs and schools, and the mole being right in the middle, especially on social media. I am a very outgoing person, but in the suit, I remain quiet. It is so fun for me to see school posts, Instagrams and selfies on the internet with the mole and knowing that people are having fun, putting those online, and them having no idea a big kid and chemistry professor is in the mole costume.

Is it better to be first or last shift at Chemistry Open House and why?

Absolutely the first shift. It is very warm in the mole costume. We do have a cooling vest with ice in it and a fan in the head, but depending on the event, we could be outside. While we do the best we can to be cool, the part of the suit that is the worst is the hands. They get VERY damp and moist, and they take days to dry out. I love to do the first couple of shifts in the suit, then I will normally have a graduate or undergraduate student take over and help with pictures. If I have to do the last shift, I usually have a fresh pair of clothes for it.

What's your most memorable experience through the years as the Chemistry mole?

Probably the most memorable moment is when small kids are so happy to see me, but they almost knock me over, trying to hug me, or they somehow pull my tail. It has happened a few times, and I haven't fallen over yet, but they almost tackle me. When it comes to fun events, the mole recently took on First Friday in Downtown Bryan. Walking around downtown and getting pictures with everyone in a community environment really was a ton of fun and kind of kicked off our new social media for the mole.

One dream that I have is when the mole goes to KBTX to do the Bravos Valley This Morning show to promote the Chemistry Open House, I have always asked to do the weather segment. One of these days, I am hoping that they will let me do it.

The Chemistry mole playing drums during the Texas A&M Chemistry Open House
Collins, fully embracing his educational (if not also musical) mission as the Chemistry mole at Chemistry Open House. | Image: Joanna Goodey-Pellois

By virtue of the costume design, you can't talk as the mole. What would you like to tell people about being the mole, the mole's [unit of measurement] relevance to chemistry, or chemistry as a discipline, possible career and facet of everyday life?

I think the thing I would say that I can't is how much fun chemistry is. The mole is our unit, and for us to have that costume really gives us a fun character side. Most people hear the horror stories of chemistry courses, but most chemists have so much passion about what we do, helping the students we teach, and love spreading that fun to anyone. I am just lucky enough that I get to do it in the suit as well as in the classroom.

Texas A&M's other famous mascot has her own social media presence. Any chance we'll see @TAMUChemistryMole on the social media scene anytime soon?

We are starting to get the mole a greater social media presence. Thanks to Instagram (@tamuchemoutreach) and TikTok (tamuchemoutreach), we are doing more events, mini videos, and planning additional fun features for the future. For instance, Monthly Mole Adventures will highlight fun, notable places on campus so that students can see how chemistry, the mole and everyday life are all connected at Texas A&M.

The mole would love to do a photoshoot with the First Lady of Aggieland, and we hope that in time, both mascots can get together for some social media fun!