The word litmus comes from Old Norse litmosi, which means “moss used for dyeing”. The dye was used by the Vikings to dye their clothes blue. The dye actually comes from lichens not mosses. In the 14th century, Arnaldus de Villa Nova, a physician, alchemist, and theologist who wanted to cure mankind, realized that the color of the dye extracted from lichens depended on its acidity and created the litmus test as a test of acidity.
De Villa Nova found that litmus is blue under basic or alkaline conditions and red under acidic conditions.
To prepare the litmus, lichens are ground in a solution of sodium carbonate and ammonia. As the solution ages, it changes from red to purple to blue. This takes about four weeks. Then the solution is dried and ground into a powder. The powder is then treated with alcohol to extract orcein, a red dye that remains red independent of the acidity of the environment. This procedure results in a pure blue litmus.
The red-blue litmus test can also be used at Cornell University to test one’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Conveniently, for this litmus test, there is no need to collect lichens from nature, solubilize the litmus with sodium carbonate and ammonia over weeks, dry the litmus, and extract the powder with alcohol to remove the orcein. One only needs to invite job applicants to submit a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statement.
Applicants for a tenure track and tenured faculty positions as well as librarians and archivists are invited to submit a Statement of Contribution to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The statement gives candidates an opportunity to describe how they currently or potentially promote diversity, equity and inclusion through their teaching, research and service and how they would continue this work at Cornell.
The rubric used to test strong versus weak Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statements is a great way of ensuring that we at Cornell University remain pure blue.