In the Dana Chemistry Hall lab of Paula Schlax, professor of chemistry, hangs a velvet Elvis painting. It’s the standard version: a head and shoulders view of the costumed crooner at a microphone.
The painting reflects the fact that, over time, a research lab begins to reflect the people and personalities who inhabit them, says Schlax. “You spend a lot of time in there, and you want to make it feel a little bit like home.”
The Elvis portrait was her choice. “Elvis was a huge joke in my family,” she says. Her parents, who moved to Memphis, Tenn., when she was in college, lived near Graceland, and “the first few times I went down there, we had to tour Graceland every single time.”
One day — her wedding day, it turns out — she was driving along when she spotted a velvet Elvis at a garage sale. She purchased it (25 cents), and it’s been with her ever since.
In 1998, Elvis went up on the wall of Schlax’s first-floor Dana lab on the day she moved in, and he hasn’t been moved since. “I don’t think he’s ever been dusted,” she says, adding that students “get used to it. They think I’m weird, and that’s fine.” (More than fine: Schlax won the 2016 Kroepsch Award for Excellence in Teaching on the strength of recommendations from current and former students.)
Against the backdrop of serious science, the Elvis painting gives the lab some comedic kitsch. “It’s ugly as sin. It really is ugly,” she says. “It’s certainly never going up in my home. It can stay here forever.”