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THE BECKMAN CENTER FOR THE HISTORY OF CHEMISTRY E. BRIGHT WILSON, JR. Transcript of an Interview Conducted by Raymond C. Ferguson at Harvard Univers...

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THE BECKMAN CENTER FOR THE HISTORY OF CHEMISTRY

E. BRIGHT WILSON, JR.

Transcript of an Interview Conducted by Raymond C. Ferguson at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts on 17 and 18 November 1986 With Subsequent Corrections and Additions

Upon E. Bright Wilson, Jr.’s death in 1992, this oral history was designated Free Access. One may view, quote from, cite, or reproduce the oral history with the permission of CHF.

Please note: Users citing this interview for purposes of publication are obliged under the terms of the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) Oral History Program to notify CHF of publication and credit CHF using the format below:

E. Bright Wilson, Jr., interview by Raymond C. Ferguson at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 17 and 18 November 1986 (Philadelphia: Chemical Heritage Foundation, Oral History Transcript # 0061).

Chemical Heritage Foundation Oral History Program 315 Chestnut Street Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106

The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) serves the community of the chemical and molecular sciences, and the wider public, by treasuring the past, educating the present, and inspiring the future. CHF maintains a world-class collection of materials that document the history and heritage of the chemical and molecular sciences, technologies, and industries; encourages research in CHF collections; and carries out a program of outreach and interpretation in order to advance an understanding of the role of the chemical and molecular sciences, technologies, and industries in shaping society.

E. BRIGHT WILSON, JR.

1908

Born in Gallatin, Tennessee on 18 December Education

1930 1931 1933

B.S., chemistry, Princeton University M.A., Princeton University Ph.D., physical chemistry, California Institute of Technology Professional Experience

1933-1934

Research Fellow, California Institute of Technology

1934-1936 1936-1939 1939-1946 1946-1979 1947-1979 1979-

Harvard University Junior Fellow, Society of Fellows Assistant Professor Associate Professor Professor Theodore William Richards Professor of Chemistry Professor Emeritus

1942-1944 1944-1946 1952-1953

Research Director, Underwater Explosives Research Laboratory, Woods Hole Chief, Division 2, National Defense Research Committee Weapons System Evaluation Group, Department of Defense Honors

1937 1942 1948 1949-1950 1962 1966 1966 1969 1970-1971 1972 1973 1975

American Chemical Society Award in Pure Chemistry Honorary M.A., Harvard University Medal for Merit, United States Government Guggenheim Fellow Debye Award in Physical Chemistry, American Chemical Society Alumni Distinguished Service Award, California Institute of Technology James Flack Norris Award in Teaching of Chemistry, Northeast Section, American Chemical Society G. N. Lewis Award, California Section, American Chemical Society Guggenheim Fellow Pauling Award, Oregon and Puget Sound Section, American Chemical Society Rumford Medal, American Academy of Arts and Sciences D. honoris causa, Free University of Brussels

1976 1976 1976 1976 1977 1978 1978 1978 1978 1979 1979 1979 1981 1983 1983

Honorary D.Sc. degree, Dickinson College Dr. chemistry, University of Bologna National Medal of Science Antonio Feltrinelli Award, Rome, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei Monie A. Ferst Award, Sigma Xi Pittsburgh Spectroscopy Award T. W. Richards Medal, Northeast Section, American Chemical Society Robert A. Welch Award Earl A. Plyler Award, American Physical Society Honorary D.Sc. degree, Columbia University Willard Gibbs Award Lippincott Medal Honorary D.Sc. degree, Princeton University Honorary D.Sc. degree, Clarkson College Honorary D.Sc. degree, Harvard Universit

ABSTRACT E. Bright Wilson, Jr. begins the interview with a description of his parents, childhood, and early education. He then discusses his undergraduate and graduate studies at Princeton University, where he was inspired by the intellectual atmosphere and affable faculty. After reviewing the curriculum, his senior thesis on quantum mechanics, and his experience at Tuxedo Park, he recalls his years at the California Institute of Technology, where he began work with vibration and group theory. Next, he describes his work at Harvard, focusing on advances in spectroscopy, and his government research at Woods Hole and in Washington, D.C. Wilson concludes with a brief profile of his family and a few remarks on his publications. INTERVIEWER Raymond C. Ferguson obtained his degrees in chemistry from Iowa State University (B.S., M.S.) and Harvard University (Ph.D.). He worked in research divisions of the Organic Chemicals, Elastomer Chemicals, and Central Research Departments of Du Pont, principally in molecular spectroscopy, organic structure analysis, and polymer characterization. Currently he is affiliated with CONDUX, Inc., a consulting association of exDu Pont professional

TABLE OF CONTENTS 1

Family and Childhood Elementary school in Yonkers. High school at Riverdale and Lawrenceville schools. Interest in science begins with chemistry sets and books.

5

Princeton University Thrilled by intellectual atmosphere. Work on New York subway line digging project. Chemistry curriculum. Research in electrochemistry. Senior thesis on quantum mechanics. Spends some time at Loomis's laboratory in Tuxedo Park. Faculty.

16

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Goes to work with Pauling. Social life in Pasadena. Writes book with Pauling. Interest in vibration of polyatomic ions and group theory develops. Ph.D. thesis on ground state of lithium.

24

Harvard University Twice receives invitation to join Society of Fellows. Works on vibration and internal rotation. Given faculty appointment. Teaches quantum mechanics, physical chemistry. Builds infrared spectrometer. FG method. Microwave spectroscopy. Writes Introduction to Scientific Research while on sabbatical at Oxford.

35

Government Work Woods Hole Project during World War II. First experience with explosives, vacuum tubes, electronics. Weapons Systems Evaluation group in Washington, D.C. during Korean War. Bureaucracy and interservice rivalry.

40

Family Meets first wife, Emily Buckingham, while at Harvard. Eldest son, Kenneth, wins Nobel Prize. Son David active at Cornell in biochemistry. Daughter Nina in economics. Leukemia causes Emily's death. Remarriage. Daughter Ann studies monkey behavior in Amazon jungles in Peru. Son Paul studies differentiation in frog embryos at Berkeley. Son Steven is entrepreneur.

46

Further Work at Harvard University Signal-to-noise improvement; 1/f noise. Electrical secular determinant solver. Infrared intensity measurement work. Paper with Crawford on internal rotation and vibration.

51

Notes

55

Index

NOTES 1.

G. B. Kistiakowsky, "Edgar Bright Wilson, Jr.," Journal of Physical Chemistry, 83 (1979): 5A-12A.

2.

N. H. Furman and E. B. Wilson, Jr., "A Simple Continuous Method of Electrometric Titration with Bimetallic Electrodes," Journal of the American Chemical Society, 30 (1928): 277-283.

3.

J. W. Mellor, Modern Inorganic Chemistry (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1920; New Edition, 1925).

4.

a.

b.

C. P. Smyth, E. W. Engel, and E. B. Wilson, Jr., "The Dielectric Polarization of Liquids. IV. The Dependence of Molar Refraction upon Concentration in Mixtures," Journal of the American Chemical Society, 51 (1929): 1736-1744. C. P. Smyth, R. W. Dornte, and E. B. Wilson, Jr., "Electric Moment and Molar Structure. VI. The Variation of Electric Moment with Temperature," Journal of the American Chemical Society, 53 (1931): 4242-4260.

5.

Henry De Wolf Smyth, Atomic Energy for Military Purposes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945).

6.

Hugh S. Taylor, A Treatise on Physical Chemistry (New York: D. Van Nostrand and Company, 1924).

7.

a.

Edgar Bright Wilson, Jr., The Electrical Moment of Chemical Thesis, Princeton University, Library, Princeton University permission to copy required.)

Dielectric Constant and Compounds (Junior 1930; copy in Mudd Archives. Author's

b.

Edgar Bright Wilson, Jr., Elementary Principles of Quantum Mechanics (Senior Thesis, Princeton University, 1930; copy in Mudd Library, Princeton University Archives. Author's permission to copy required.)

8.

Edward U. Condon and Philip M. Morse, Quantum Mechanics (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1929).

9.

Paul A. M. Dirac, The Principles of Quantum Mechanics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, first edition, 1930).

10.

Linus Pauling and E. Bright Wilson, Jr., Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, with Applications to Chemistry (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1935).

11.

E. Bright Wilson, Jr. interview by Timothy Ferris, 1963; audio tapes only (New York: American Institute of Physics).

51

12.

E. Bright Wilson, Jr. and W. T. Richards, "The Velocity of Sound in Solutions of Benzene and n-Butyl Alcohol in nHeptane," Journal of Physical Chemistry, 36 (1932): 12681270.

13.

Charles Vernon Boys, Soap Bubbles and the Forces which Mould Them (Three Lectures delivered in London 30 December 1889 and 1,3 January 1890), (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books, first American edition, 1959).

14.

C. V. Raman and K. S. Krishnan, "A New Type of Secondary Radiation," Nature, 121 (1928): 501-502.

15.

a. R. W. Wood, "The Raman Spectra of Scattered Radiation," Philosophical Magazine, 6 (1928): 729-743. b. R. W. Wood, "Note on Raman Lines Under High Dispersion," Philosophical Magazine, 6 (1928): 1282-1283.

16.

Henry Eyring, John Walter, and George E. Kimball, Quantum Chemistry (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1944).

17.

E. Bright Wilson, "Some Personal Scientific Reminiscences," International Journal of Quantum Chemistry: Symposia, 14 (1980): 17-29.

18.

E. T. Whittaker and G. N. Watson, A Course of Modern Analysis (Cambridge University Press, fourth edition, 1927).

19.

Richard C. Tolman, The Principles of Statistical Mechanics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938).

20. a. David M. Dennison, "The Infrared Spectra of Polyatomic Molecules," Review of Modern Physics, 3 (1931): 280-345. b. David M. Dennison, "The Vibrational Levels of Linear Symmetrical Triatomic Molecules," Physical Review, 42 (1932): 304-312. 21.

G. E. Kimball and H. Eyring, "The Five-electron Problem in Quantum Mechanics and its Application to the HydrogenChlorine Reaction," Journal of the American Chemical Society, 54 (1932): 3876-3885.

22.

E. Wigner, Göttinger Nachrichten, (1930): 133.

23.

N. Bjerrum, "Configuration of the Carbon Dioxide Molecule and Laws of the Intramolecular Forces," Berichte der Deutschen Physikalischen Gesellschaft, 16 (1914): 737-753.

52

24.

E. Bright Wilson, Jr., "Calculation of Vibrational Isotope Effect in Polyatomic Molecules by a Perturbation Method," Physical Review, 45 (1934): 427.

25.

E. Bright Wilson, Jr., "The Normal Modes of Frequencies of Vibration of the Regular Plane Hexagon Model of the Benzene Molecule," Physical Review, 45 (1934): 706-714.

26.

E. Bright Wilson, Jr., Rotation Energy Levels Mathematical Theory of Molecules," Journal of

27.

E. Bright Wilson, Jr., "Diamagnetism of Nitroso Compounds," Journal of the American Chemical Society, 56 (1934): 747.

28.

J. B. Howard and E. Bright Wilson, Jr., "The Normal Frequencies of Vibration of Symmetrical Pyramidal Molecules AB3 with Application to the Raman Spectra of Trihalides," Journal of Chemical Physics, 2 (1934): 630-634.

29.

Harold Gershinowitz, "The First Infrared Spectrometer," Journal of Physical Chemistry, 83 (1979): 1363-1365.

30.

E. Bright Wilson, Jr. and A. J. Wells, "The Experimental Determination of the Intensities of Infrared Absorption Bands. I. Theory of the Method," Journal of Chemical Physics, 14 (1946): 578-580.

31.

a.

E. Bright Wilson, Jr., "A Method of Obtaining the Expanded Secular Equation for the Vibration Frequencies of a Molecule," Journal of Chemical Physics, 7 (1939): 1047-1052.

b.

E. Bright Wilson, Jr., "Some Mathematical Methods for the Study of Molecular Vibrations," Journal of Chemical Physics, 9 (1941): 76-84.

and J. B. Howard, "The Vibrationof Polyatomic Molecules. I. Semirigid Asymmetrical Top Chemical Physics, 4 (1936): 260-268.

32.

Chemical Abstracts, 34 (1940): 295.

33.

a. Note 31: E. Bright Wilson, Current Contents: Physics, Chemistry and Earth Science, No. 11 (16 March 1981): 16. b. Note 34: E. Bright Wilson, Current Contents: Physics, Chemistry and Earth Science, No. 29 (18 July 1988): 14.

34.

E. B. Wilson, Jr., P. C. Cross, and J. C. Decius, Molecular Vibrations: The Theory of Infrared and Raman Vibrational Spectra (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1955).

35.

E. Bright Wilson, Jr., "Analysis of Spin-Spin Interaction in the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectra of Symmetrical Molecules," Journal of Chemical Physics, 27 (1957): 60-68.

53

36.

E. B. Wilson, Jr., An Introduction to Scientific Research (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1952).

37.

Philip M. Morse and George E. Kimball, Methods of Operations Research (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1951).

38.

R. H. Hughes and E. Bright Wilson, Jr., "An Electric Network for the Solution of Secular Equations," Review of Scientific Instruments, 18 (1947): 103-108.

39.

B. L. Crawford, Jr. and E. Bright Wilson, Jr., "The Normal Vibrations of Molecules with Internal Torsional Motions," Journal of Chemical Physics, 9 (1941): 323-329.

40.

S. Golden and E. Bright Wilson, Jr., "The Stark Effect for a Rigid Asymmetric Rotor," Journal of Chemical Physics, 16 (1948): 669-685.

54

INDEX A Abbott, Mather Almon ("Bot"), 4, 5 American Chemical Society (ACS), 7 American Physical Society, 11 Ammonia, 31, 46 Andrews, Donald H., 22 Astronomy, 12 B Badger, Richard M., 23 Baird Associates, 29 Bell Telephone Laboratories, 12 Benzene, 22 Beryllium, 24 Bethe, Hans, 41 Boys, Sir Charles, 12 Bragg, John, 50 Bremer, Thérèse (second wife), 42-44 Brown, Ernest W., 12 Brown University, 36, 49 Brussels, University of, 42 Buckingham, Emily (wife), 40, 42, 43 C California Institute of Technology (Caltech) faculty, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23 housing, 17 California, University of (Berkeley), 44 Calomel electrodes, 7 Carbon dioxide, 20, 21 Chemical Abstracts, 30 Cole, Robert H. (Bob), 36, 37 Columbia University, 15, 37 Conant, James Bryant, 35 Condon, Edward U. (Ed), 11, 14 Coolidge, A. Sprague, 24 Cornell University, 41 Crawford, Bryce, 30, 47, 48 Cross, Paul, 30, 43, 48 Current Contents, 30 D Data Acquisitions System, Inc., 45 Debye, Peter, 8, 10, 30 Decious, J. C. (Jack), 43, 48, 49 Dennison, David M., 20, 21 Dipole moment, 10, 50 Dirac, Paul A. M., 11, 20 Dornte, R. W., 9 Doty, Paul, 44 Dover Publications, 48 du Pont de Nemours & Co., E. I., Inc., 33

55

Duke University, 38 E Electrical secular determinant solver, 46 Electrochemical Society, 8 Electronics, 36, 37 Engel, E. W., 9 Ethane, 25, 32 Eyring, Henry, 15, 16, 20 F Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 42 F-G method, 30, 49 Fourier series, 12 Frankel, George, 37 Frequency dependence, 10 Furman, N. Howell, 6-9, 14 G Gallatin, Tennessee, 1 Galvanometer, 7, 28, 29 Geneva, Switzerland, 44 Gershinowitz, Harold, 27, 47 Globar, 28 Golden, Sydney, 50 Göttinger Nachschriften, 20 Gwinn, William D., 32 H Halfred, Ralph, 38 Harvard University chemistry department, 6, 26, 29, 38 combines with Radcliffe, 38 faculty, 11, 14, 22 physical chemistry, 26, 27 Society of Fellows, 24-27 students, 4, 40, 45 Heisenberg, Werner, 20 Henderson, Lawrence J., 25 Herschbach, Dudley R., 33, 40, 48, 50 Hewlett-Packard, 31 Honeywell, 45 Hornig, Donald F. (Don), 37 Howard, J. B. (Jack), 22, 25, 27, 30, 47 Hughes, Richard H. (Dick), 31, 46, 49 I Infrared spectrometer, 27-31, 47, 49 Internal rotation, 32, 48, 50 Introduction to Scientific Research, 34, 39, 42, 48 Iowa, University of, 11

56

J Johns Hopkins University, 22 Journal of Physical Chemistry, 1 Festschrift issue, 39 K Kennedy, William D. (Bill), 36, 37 Keyes, Geoffrey, 38-40 Kilb, Ralph W., 33 Kimball, George E., 15, 16, 20, 34 Kirkwood, John, 35 Kistiakowsky, George B., 1, 11, 13, 23, 26, 27, 32, 35-39, 42, 44, 47 Korean War, 38 L Lawrenceville School, 3-6, 17 Lead, 6 Linnett, John, 47 Lithium, 24 London School of Economics, 45 Loomis, Alfred T., 12 Los Alamos project, 37 Löwdin, Per-Olov, 17 M Mach, Ernst, 35 Magie, William F., 14 Magnesium, 6 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 31, 32, 37, 39, 40, 45 Mayer, --, 36 McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, Inc., 48 Mellor, J. W., 8 Mercury, 6 Methane, 22 Michigan, University of, 21, 29, 44 Microwave spectroscopy, 30-33, 49, 50 Molecular Vibrations, 30, 48, 49 Moore, --, 36 Morse, Philip M. (Phil), 11 N National Academy of Sciences, 20 National Bureau of Standards, 12 National Defense Council, 36 National Defense Research Committee, 19 National Research Council Fellowship, 30, 47 National Science Research Council, 35 Nature, 13 New York, New York, 1, 2 Nitromethane, 32 NMR, 31, 33 Nobel Prize, 26, 40, 41, 50

57

"Normal Vibrations of Molecules with Internal Torsional Motions, The," 48 Nuclear quadrupole interaction, 50 Nuclear weapons, 39 O Oka, Takeshi, 33 Operations Analysis Group, 38 Operations Research, 34 Operations Research Society of America, 34 Orthoclase feldspar, 8 Oxford University, 34, 39, 43, 47 P Pasadena, California, 17 Pauling, Linus, 11, 16, 18, 19, 22-24, 26, 48 Perkin-Elmer spectrometer, 28, 29 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 Piezoelectric gages, 36 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 31, 36 Platinum, 7 Potassium bromide, 27 Potentiometer, 7 Preston, William M. (Bill), 14, 16 Princeton, New Jersey, 3 Princeton University chemistry, 5-8, 13, 14, 16 biology, 45 eating clubs, 18 faculty, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 38, 45 housing, 18 intellectual atmosphere, 5 physical chemistry, 7, 9, 10 physics, 6, 10, 13, 14, 16 qualitative analysis, 6 quantitative analysis, 8, 9 Q Quantum Chemistry, 15, 17, 48 Quantum mechanics, 6, 10, 11, 14, 15, 18-21, 26, 38, 48 Quartz piezoelectric crystal clock, 12 R Radcliffe College, 35, 38, 40 Raft, George, 39 Raman, C. V., 13 Raman effect, 13 Research Corporation, 31 Richards, Theodore William, 11 Richards, William T., 9, 11-13, 16, 25 Rieffler clocks, 12 Riverdale Country School, 2-5 Robertson, Howard P., 10, 11, 38 Russell, Henry Norris, 15

58

S Schrödinger, Erwin, 19, 20 Science Citation Index, 49 Seitz, Frederick, 20 Shell Development Company, 27, 47 Slater, Johan, 19 Slifko, John P., 36 Smithsonian Institution, 24 Smyth, Charles P. (Charlie), 8, 9, 13 Smyth, Henry De Wolf (Harry), 9, 14, 15 Smyth Report, 9 Sodium chloride, 8, 28 Sound, velocity of, 11 Spectroscopy, 14, 15, 21, 26-33, 47, 49, 50 Stark effect modulation, 31, 45, 46, 49, 50 Strandberg, M. Woodrow P., 32 Stitt, Fred, 47 Supercooled liquids, 13 T Taylor, Hugh, 7, 8, 10, 16 Teller, Edward, 21 Tennessee Eastman Corporation, 36 Tisza, L., 21 TNT, 36 Tolman, Richard C., 18-20, 22, 23 Townes, Charles H. (Charlie), 32 Treatise on Physical Chemistry, A, 10 Tungsten wire electrode, 7, 31 Tuxedo Park, New York, 12, 13 U Underwater Explosives Research Laboratory, 37 V Vacuum tubes, 36, 37 Van Vleck, John H., 22, 26, 36 "Vibrational Isotope Effect in Polyatomic Molecules by a Perturbation Method," 22 Von Neuman, John, 35 W Washington, D.C., 38, 39, 42 Watson, George N., 18 Weapons Systems Evaluation group, 38-40 Webb, D. Jefferson, 9, 10 Wellesley College, 40 Wells, A. Judson (Jud), 27, 29, 47 Westinghouse Corporation, 31, 49 Whittaker, Edmund T., 18 Wigner, Eugene, 20, 22 Wilson, Ann (daughter), 44 Wilson, Charles Erwin, 39

59

Wilson, David (son), 41 Wilson, E. Bright, Jr. canoeing, 42 childhood, 1-3 course work at Caltech, 18 decision to attend Caltech, 16 decision to attend Princeton, 4 elementary education, 2-4 engineering interest and experience, 5 family, 1-3, 23, 40-45 fellow students at Princeton, 15, 18 high school education, 3-5 interest in science develops, 3-5 laboratory experience at Caltech, 23 Princeton war contract, 38 research at Princeton, 6, 7, 9, 14, 23 social life at Princeton, 18, 42 social life at Caltech, 17 teaching fellowship at Caltech, 16, 19 university education, 5-20 Wilson, Kenneth (son), 40-43 Wilson, Nina (daughter), 41, 42 Wilson, Paul (son), 44, 45 Wilson, Steven (son), 44, 45 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 36, 37 Woods Hole project, 19, 35-38, 49 Wood, Robert W., 12, 13 World War II, 19, 30, 31, 34, 35-38 Y Yale University, 4, 12 Yonkers, New York, 2, 3

60