From the C&EN ArchivesNovember 9th, 2010
Chemical and Engineering News brought its photo albums out of the attic yesterday and posted PDF scans of its old issues. What a treasure trove. As of now, the archives appears only to go back to 1988, but it already includes some real gems.
Naturally, the first thing I was inclined to do was search for my advisors. I was not disappointed. The September 15th, 1969 issue features Harry Gray playing guitar on the cover. The accompanying story discusses his receipt of the Pure Award in Chemistry, and the lead paragraph pretty much sums up the awesomeness of the article:
Harry Gray talks in a breezy vernacular more often associated with locker rooms than with chemistry labs; he owns two fast cars, a Corvette and a 1957 Jaguar XK140; he loves tennis and plays the game with a loping, easy grace that belies his 6-foot 4-inch frame. Like two thirds of American males, Dr. Gray has been known to bend an elbow with the boys, and even jests that his involvement in what he calls “inorganic biochemistry” resulted from an idea that hit him “on my 17th drink.”
In the same article, Harry pointed to center field with less ambiguity than Ruth in ’32, and declared:
“We’re at a plateau right now in inorganic chemistry,” he says, “and 90% of the people in the field are just spinning their wheels. Sure, we’re making slow progress in a number of areas, but the great renaissance in inorganic which resulted from application of the discoveries of quantum theory is over. In the fifties we had this upsurge of creativity, but in the past few years it has been obvious that most work is just an extension of work done in this renaissance era. Until we go to the next level of creative effort,” Dr. Gray adds, “I don’t believe the excitement is going to reappear.”
The next upturn will come in five or six years, Dr. Gray believes, and he thinks he knows one important area of work that will be responsible for it. His own.
“Inorganic biochemistry”—the area upon which Dr. Gray is placing his bets—is another of those endless, seemingly casual brainstorms which scientists and inventors are wont to have.
Pretty cool. As a footnote, concerned citizens later wrote letters-to-the-editor to protest the portrayal of Harry’s Jag as “12-cylinder” and to applaud C&EN on not being “uptight”.
Finally, I would lose my membership in the Organic Division if I did not search the archives for all-things-Woodward. His obituary, which is unsatisfactorily bland, can be found here. What I want to know is what happened to the 7-29-1947 edition of C&EN? It is supposed to feature a cover shot of our hero and a colorful story on his days at MIT:
The rest of his life, before he entered MIT at the doddering old age of 16, consisted of being born on April 10, 1917, attending schools at Quincy, Mass., and generally living as an average American youth. One exception to the latter statement might be found, however, in that the great majority of the younger male Americans do not become engrossed in devising a synthesis for quinine. His activity on this problem, which Woodward carried with him from his high school days, taught him, in his own estimation, the great bulk of his knowledge of organic chemistry. He strongly recommends attempting to synthesize a ‘tough molecule’ as the best teacher in this field.
“The success of this Woodward system of self-education was affirmed by Dr. James Flack Norris…’When he [Woodward] entered the institute as a freshman, he already had as much knowledge of organic chemistry as a man normally acquires during four years of enrollment in undergraduate classes.’”
In spite of this, Woodward flunked out of MIT in the middle of his second year. “At that point, the slow [to him] pace of the prescribed chemistry curriculum caused a restlessness and boredom that nearly proved disastrous to his career. Fortunately, as advocates of progressive education will claim, the MIT faculty grasped the situation and designed a curriculum for Woodward’s exclusive use. Its flexibility enabled him to experiment in his own laboratory and spend as little time as he wished in classes, provided, of course, that he presented himself for examinations. This arrangement proved especially helpful to the young scientist because it enabled him to take courses, the total hours of which amounted to more than the 168 found in the conventional week.
“In June 1936, at the end of his third year, MIT awarded Woodward his bachelor of science degree. In the commencement ceremonies of the following June, while his class was receiving their baccalaureate recognition, the student of ‘tough molecules’ donned the gold tassel of the Ph.D.
The C&EN archives also lets us know that long before Nicolaou employed metaphors of Greek mythology, Woodward spoke of “dragons to be slain” in chemistry. From the same story, it is interesting to note that he got C&EN to treat his Nichols Medal address on progress towards the synthesis of reserpine as off-the-record.
I’ll keep searching for that July 29th, 1947 issue with Woodward on the cover; it is currently missing from the archives. I can only assume some C&EN editor’s mother found the magazine under a mattress and threw it out.