Don Cass

Don Cass
207-801-5707 | | faculty website

Don CassDon Cass received a B.A. in Chemistry from Carleton College in 1973 and a chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1977. He received additional training in factors affecting global change (CalTech/JPL), in environmental organic chemistry (MIT) and in risk assessment as a visiting scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health. From 1977-1979, Don taught chemistry at Kenyon College and directed their freshman wilderness experience before coming to COA. At COA, Don has taught a wide range of classes including math and physics, but most recently has focused on chemistry. His broad interest is on where materials come from, how they behave and where they go. An area of emerging interest for him is how to quantify the risks posed by different materials and activities.

Don is a frequent visitor to local schools, he directed COA's NSF sponsored Math and Science Academy ('95-'96), he worked with the Mendleev Institute (Moscow) on ways to integrated environmental chemistry into their program, and with the High School for Environmental Studies (NYC) on developing a NY Regents appropriate curriculum in environmental chemistry.

At COA Don has chaired the Student Activities and Personnel Committees, been Advisor Coordinator, and acting Academic Dean. Don's community involvement has included serving on the Acadia National Park Water Quality Advisory Committee and as a board member of the Somes-Meynall Wildlife Sanctuary.

Don's other interests include cooking, hiking, climbing, running, skiing and taking care of his family's horses.

B.A. Carleton College, 1973
Ph.D. Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, 1977

Courses Taught

ES5010Biochemistry I

This course's goal is to develop the student's ability to understand the biochemical literature and to relate the structures of biological chemicals to their properties and by surveying the aims and designs of the most important, basic metabolic processes.  Emphasis is on features common to all pathways (enzyme catalysis and regulation) and purposes unique to each (energy extraction, generation of biosynthesis precursors, etc.)  Most of the course looks at processes that most organisms have in common; some attention is paid to how these processes have been adapted to meet the demands of unique environments.  This course should be especially useful to students with interests in medicine, nutrition, physiology, agriculture, or toxicology.  The class meets for three hours of lecture/discussion each week.  Evaluations are based on a midterm exam and a final paper.  Offered every other year.

Level:  Advanced.  Prerequisites: At least one term of organic chemistry. Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES1012Chemistry for Consumers

This class is designed to introduce the perspective from which chemists view their world. It begins with examining how life reflects properties of bio-molecules, moves to discussions of the chemistry of nutrition, cooking, agriculture and medicines. The class then shifts gears and discusses how the properties of useful materials such as metals, ceramics, polymers reflect their microscopic structures. Evaluations are based on participation in classes and labs and a final project.  Offered every other year.  

Level: Introductory. Prerequisites: none. Lab fee $20.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES1020Chemistry I

This is the first half of a two-term sequence designed to help students describe and understand properties of materials.  The course first explores how our current pictures of atoms and molecules can explain physical properties of materials (state, color, density, specific heat).  The course then uses such pictures to explain how materials behave when mixed together.  What sorts of transformations occur?  How fast do they occur?  To what extent do they occur?  Why do they occur?  Course material is applied to better understand living systems, the natural environment, and industrial products.  The course meets for three hours of lecture/discussion and for three hours of lab each week. Students are strongly urged to take both terms of this course.  Those wishing a less rigorous chemistry course should take Chemistry for Consumers.  Evaluations are based on class participation, lab reports, and quizzes.  Offered every year.

Level:  Introductory.   Lab fee: $75.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES1030Chemistry II

This is the second half of a two-term sequence designed to help students describe and understand properties of materials.  This course begins with a survey of how the internal structure of atoms leads to the formation of different sorts of bonds between them. It then considers how weaker forces can arise between molecules and the sorts of physical phenomena that such forces explain. The class concludes by considering how to describe and explain the rates at which (and the extents to which) chemicals reactions occur and applies such descriptions and explanations to common types of reactions (acid/base and redox).  Throughout the course, examples are drawn from living systems, the natural environment, and industrial products.  The course meets for three hours of lecture/discussion and for three hours of lab each week.  Chemistry 1 is a strongly recommended a prerequisite for this course. Evaluations are based on class participation, homework, midterm and final exams and a term project or paper. 

Level:  Introductory.  Lab fee: $60.  Meets the following requirements: ES, QR.  Offered every year.

ES1032Chemistry of Foods and Cooking

This course is designed to introduce students to the basic concepts of chemistry in the context of food.  After a brief introduction to biochemistry (why we eat), the course will work through different foods, roughly in the order that humans are thought to have exploited them.  Topics will include their history, cultural significance & how their molecular structure can explain how different methods of preparation affect their nutritional and aesthetic characteristics.  Each class will be based around kitchen experiments that illustrate chemical concepts.  Evaluation will be based on a midterm take-home problem set and each student’s compilation of a cook-book of recipes for 15 different food types, each of which includes a discussion of how the recipe reflects the chemical principles discussed in the class.  

Level:  Introductory.   Class limit: 15.   Lab fee: $50.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES3046Environmental Chemistry

The goal of this class is to improve students' understanding of the properties of the earth's atmosphere and hydrosphere, of the processes that maintain them and of threats to them. Roughly the first half of the term will focus on the atmosphere (e.g. ozone depletion, urban and indoor air quality and climate change). The rest of the term will focus on the hydrosphere (e.g. eutrophication, acidification and contamination by organic and metallic toxins). Evaluations will be based on weekly homework exercises, weekly lab reports and a final presentation exploring the chemistry of some environmental issue in more depth than class time allows. 

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisites: Introductory Chemistry.  Class limit: 12.  Lab fee: $50.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES, QR

ES529Environmental Chemistry: Air

Living things are exposed to air more than any other material, and yet many people seldom give a second thought to whats in air, why its there, how it behaves or what it may do them and to other living things. This class will examine such questions. Well start by looking at how the molecular structures of materials determine how much they vaporize and what consumes them when vaporized - and how their atmospheric levels reflect those competing processes. Well then apply such knowledge to understanding phenomena such as the pressure and temperature structures of the atmosphere, global weather patterns, the earths ozone layer, urban smog, acid deposition, the earths greenhouse effect and indoor air pollution. For each topic, we will discuss: Why is it important? Why is there as much of it as there is? What can increase it or decrease its amount? How have people tried to control it? What do we still not understand about it? Readings will be from both a text and from papers from the scientific literature. Evaluations will be based on problem sets for each topic and on the design (but not actual construction) of a museum exhibit addressing some air quality issue. Some background in basic chemistry is desirable but not essential. Level: Intermediate. *ES*

ES361Environmental Chemistry: Water

Billions of years ago, ancient water molecules traversed a Goldilocks-like walk through our slowly condensing solar system, looking for a home. Mercury and Venus were much too hot. Mars and the outer planets were much too cold. Earth seemed 'just right.' With conditions capable of sustaining all of water's phases, Earth became the 'water planet.' The solid surface of the earth became sculpted by water. The composition and temperature of the earth's atmosphere became largely determined by its water. All life (that we know) came to be based upon water. It is within the water of its cells that the machinery of life grinds away and it is into water that life disposes of what it finds un-useful. Many life-forms live their entire existence bathed in water as we are bathed in air, and even we who live surrounded by air require more water every day than any other foodstuff. As such, it is appropriate to look at how our water is doing these days. Students will be evaluated on their participation in class discussion of the readings, problem sets, and participation in field studies of focused on monitoring and modeling the conditions of local waters. Level: Intermediate. Lab fee: $50. *ES*


Hydrology is the science that studies the movement, distribution and quality of water resources throughout the Earth. Water is an essential component to life on Earth. Changes to our Earth System affect the distribution and quality of water resources and can have profound effects on adjacent and embedded systems. In this class we will look at how freshwater systems function and how perturbations result in changes. Field studies and laboratory analyses will help students develop a complete understanding of the physical and chemical processes that influence freshwater resources, with a particular emphasis on activities on and near Mount Desert Island. Field trips will include monitoring and measuring water quantity and quality at several locations around MDI in conjunction with United States Geological Survey: Water Division data. In addition we will visit public utilities such as water treatment and wastewater treatment facilities on the island. These field studies and field trips will help link natural processes and human activities that place demands on water resources. This course combines hands-on experiential learning and group participation with independent work in the primary literature. Students will have opportunities to develop and design term projects to investigate specific areas of interest. Students will be evaluated on their participation in class discussion of the readings, problem sets, field studies and projects. Level: Intermediate. Prerequisite: A college-level course in chemistry or geology is helpful but not required. Lab Fee $50. *ES*

ES3050Organic Chemistry I

This course explores the physical, chemical, and environmental properties of carbon-containing materials such as plastics, solvents, dyes, as well as all living things, and once-living materials.  The emphasis is on learning fundamental principles that allow one to understand and to predict the behavior of various types of organic substances.  There is an optional Lab section.  Evaluations are based on midterm and final exam.  The equivalent of this course is a prerequisite for biochemistry.  

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisites: A previous chemistry course.  Offered every other year.  Class limit: 20.  Lab fee: none.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES114Organic Chemistry I

This course explores the physical, chemical, and environmental properties of carbon-containing materials such as plastics, solvents, dyes, as well as all living things, and once-living materials. The lab exposes students to the common techniques of studying and manipulating such materials. Evaluations are based on midterm and final exam. The equivalent of this course is a prerequisite for biochemistry. Level: Intermediate. Prerequisites: A previous chemistry course. Offered every other year. Lab fee: $20. *ES*


Soils are one of the most important natural resources that affect the sustainability of agricultural, recreational, forest, and disturbed soil (mining, urban) systems. This course seeks to introduce students to basics of soils science and contemporary issues in soils science and management. The primary themes running through this course are how soil properties influence and are influenced by human activities. Classes will cover the basic physical, chemical and biological properties of soils and the processes which create, maintain and transform them. Evaluation of students will be based on quizzes, problem sets and a final presentation.

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisites: At least one college level chemistry and one college level biology class.  Class limit: 12.  Lab fee: $50  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES574Tutorial: Applied Atmospheric Science

This tutorial is designed to give participants a general overview of atmospheric science and to allow each student to focus on a topic of interests such as climate, meteorology or agriculture. The first half of the term will be spent reading through the 1st 8 chapters of Lutgen & Tarbuck’s The Atmosphere to gain general background knowledge. The students will meet as a group once a week and with the instructor once a week to discuss the reading of the text and to work though the end-of-chapter questions.  For the 2nd half of the term, students will find and read additional material pertinent to their individual interests and the group will meet with the instructor once a week to share what the students are learning. Each student will do and present a final project in their area of focus. The students will be evaluated on their preparation for and participation in the weekly meetings and on the depth, originality and level of understanding of their final projects.

Level: Intermediate. Prerequisites: permission of instructor. Class limit: 5. Lab fee: none.