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Chemistry and Tamburitza

by Clare Coppa

Betty Schultz did a double-take walking into a convention in Pittsburgh a few years ago.

Someone called her name as she walked among throngs of people and a band playing. “There was a guy dressed up in his oom-pa-pa uniform playing the accordion,” she says, “and it was Rich. That’s how I found out that he was a musician.”

Schultz refers to Richard Danchik, Ph.D., a chemist well-known in technical circles as a conference organizer, and lesser known as a bandleader. Schultz, the director of Meetings at ASTM International, shares hotel-negotiation expertise with Danchik, who finds lodging for thousands of chemists attending the Pittsburgh Conference (PITTCON) each year.

Danchik has been active in six technical societies since he retired from Alcoa in 1998, including ASTM Committee D22 on Sampling and Analysis of Atmospheres.

He also leads a four-piece band. “The Internationals” unleash invigorating folk music from Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, and Russia on unsuspecting audiences. “It’s very lively,” he says. “A lot of the music I play has very different rhythms than you’re used to hearing in the United States.” Although his grandparents were Slovaks, he credits his penchant for ethnic European music to the Duquesne University Tamburitzans, an international folk ensemble he joined while obtaining his bachelors in chemistry. “Tamburitzans are taken from a family of stringed instruments that are Croatian in origin,” he says. “The Croatian music is very unique.” Some of it parallels Klezmer and gypsy styles.

Danchik plays accordion and sometimes a tenor guitar with steel strings. His ASTM colleagues saw his musical side when the Internationals spun their Tamburitzan reels this year at two Committee-Week receptions. “He was a hit in April,” Schultz recalls, “so our staff, Jim [Thomas] and Ken [Pearson], wanted him back for the May meeting.”

PITTCON is a family affair for Danchik and his wife Rita Windisch, Ph.D., a clinical chemist with Mercy Hospital, Pittsburgh. They met as conference volunteers in 1972, married a year later, and both served as conference presidents.

According to Danchik, 100 volunteers gather some 1100 companies and 3300 booths at PITTCON to annually exhibit the latest laboratory equipment. “We emphasized proteomics and the biosciences this year more than other years,” he says. Jane Rothert, a chemist with the Illinois Water Survey, praises the conference organizers. “The people who put it on are vital to the chemistry industry,” she says. “It’s overwhelming that people can manage to do that year after year.”

Chemical analysis is behind thousands of products that work. Danchik spent 30 years at Alcoa doing research in atomic absorption spectrophotometry, electroanalytical techniques, selective ion electrodes, and automated process-control systems. He received a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Wayne State University, Detroit. “My parents were very encouraging in terms of education,” he says. “I started out with the Gilbert chemistry set when I was a kid. I was probably 11 or 12.” He didn’t burn a hole in his parents’ dining room table, but adds, “I used to stink up the cellar a lot with sulfur, making gun powder and all those things kids do.” //

Copyright 2002, ASTM