Foil A. Miller begins the first interview, given about ten years before the second, by describing the origins of the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon). Miller was involved early on with Pittcon and its two founding groups, the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh and the Society of Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh. In the 1950s, Pittsburgh had an active community of both academics and people from industry; this collaboration contributed to the success of Pittcon. Although the emphasis of the conference has evolved over time and reflects changes in the fields, it possesses a strong institutional history that allows for smooth transitions in leadership and administration. Miller outlines some of the changes in the field of instrumentation that he has observed during the course of his career and reflects on some of the key individuals in instrument entrepreneurship. Although Miller first came to Pittsburgh to work at the Mellon Institute, he later moved to the University of Pittsburgh where he taught in the chemistry department until his retirement at age sixty-five. After retirement, Miller indulged his love of travel and developed an interest in stamp collecting, particularly stamps relating to physics and chemistry. Revisited ten years after the first interview, Miller reprises his description of the early Pittcon years. The newer interview has a slightly different—slightly more personal—focus, beginning with Miller's family background and continuing with a short précis of his growing up and selection of chemistry, especially spectroscopy, as a career. Miller was born in Aurora, Illinois, but grew up in Pepin, Wisconsin, the only brother of five sisters. His class at school numbered seven. Though he had a very good English teacher, Mrs. Morris, he had no chemistry classes at all. His first exposure to chemistry, from The Book of Knowledge, bored him, but his high-school science teacher gave him a chemistry textbook, which he loved, and which thoroughly convinced him that he was destined for chemistry. Miller entered Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, as a chemistry major. The two chemistry teachers there were not good, but he persevered. He also had to work several jobs to supplement his scholarship. Miller then spent a year as a teaching assistant at the University of Nebraska, which had a good organic chemistry program. He wanted, however, to switch to physical chemistry, so he applied for and won the Chemical Foundation Fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. There he worked with Richard Lord, helping him build a Raman spectroscope and learning infrared (IR) spectroscopy. At about the time he finished his PhD he married Ruth Naomi Zeller. He taught a class in analyzing explosives. He found Joseph Mayer and Frederick Wiselogle excellent teachers after whom to model himself. Next came two years as a National Research Council postdoc under Bryce Crawford at the University of Minnesota and then a position at the University of Illinois, where he taught physical chemistry, a job he loved. Technological advances in spectroscopy helped Harold Klug recruit Miller to the Mellon Institute. Miller had reservations about moving to Pittsburgh, but forgot them when he saw the new Baird double beam infrared instrument and the Cary visible/UV spectrometer, both with serial number one. He became Head of the Spectroscopy Division at Mellon and later Senior Fellow in Independent Research. He concurrently taught a course on spectroscopy at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt). When Mellon Institute merged with Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1967 to form Carnegie-Mellon University, Miller transferred to Pitt and taught there until he retired at the age of sixty-five. He wrote a series of papers with William Fateley; he taught, for fifty-three years, a summer course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and with Dana Mayo and Robert Hanna, he wrote Course Notes on the Interpretation of Infrared and Raman Spectra. These notes were published after much revision and updating, but only after having been translated into Chinese for a course in China. About the time of his retirement, Miller began collecting stamps concerning chemistry and physics. He is himself the subject of a cachet as a landmark scientist in analytical chemistry. He has been editor of Philatelia Chimica et Physica and, with Edgar Heilbronner, wrote A Philatelic Ramble through Chemistry. He has a number of different collections, including one of stamps on different metal foils. He has enthusiastic audiences for his talk, "Great Mistakes in Science," and he has written an article about mistakes on stamps. Miller provides a number of general observations within the interview. He thinks that Raman spectroscopy is still going strong, but that infrared is leveling off. He believes that education should be difficult, and that not everyone needs a college degree; that education in grade schools is abysmal; and that teachers should learn their subjects, not theories of education. He laments the demise of the home chemistry set; he regrets the virtual techniques that permit students to avoid getting messy, techniques that prevent a real understanding of what students are doing. Miller says his most important award of the many he has received is his first, the Pittsburgh Award from the American Chemical Society. He enthusiastically discusses his many travels over the years, especially those with his sons. He has been to Africa, Nepal, Canada; and he has spent at least two nights in each of the fifty states and in fifty-two foreign countries. Miller concludes his interview with his four necessities for a happy retirement: a year-round hobby (he still collects stamps and gives slide lectures about his travels); enough money to be able to indulge the hobbies; a companion (he and his wife had been married for sixty-five years before she died five years ago); and good health. As he told his doctor, Miller, now ninety-six, is "shooting for a hundred."
Roy G. Neville begins the interview by tracing his family history back to the year 700. He discusses his immediate family and his childhood in Bournemouth, England. Neville admits that he was not very impressed with his first chemistry lesson, but was intrigued by doing chemistry experiments in his makeshift home laboratory. He excelled academically and was accepted at Balliol College, University of Oxford. However, Neville was drafted into an industry of “national importance” and was unable to attend Balliol. After a brief stint at Signals Research and Development Establishment, Neville met Professor Neil Kensington Adam, who allowed him to attended the University College Southampton part-time. Neville continued to excel and was invited to do graduate research in the US at the University of Oregon. While at Oregon, Neville received his master's degree and PhD and met his future wife, Jeanne. Neville goes on to describe his employment at various companies and the problem of being a chemist in industry. To combat this problem, he established Engineering and Technical Consultants, Inc. Being an entrepreneur allowed Neville to spend more of his time and money on collecting rare books. He details the start and growth of his rare book collection and his near decision to sell the collection in 1965. He discusses his competitors, how he obtained many of his rare treasures, and the start of The Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Finally, Neville concludes the interviews with reflections of his childhood in Bournemouth during the start of World War II.
Allen Debus was born in Chicago, Illinois, an only child. He grew up in Evanston, a suburb to the north of Chicago, where he attended public schools. Interested in chemical engineering, he was accepted at Rose-Hulman in Indiana, but anticipating that he would be drafted into the Army, he decided to attend Northwestern University instead so that he could remain at home. Never drafted, he earned a BS in chemistry, with almost enough credits for a second major in history. From there he went to Indiana University as assistant to John Murray, who advised Debus to write his master's thesis on the history of chemistry in the Tudor-Stuart period. Instead, Debus met and married Brunilda Lopez-Rodriguez; both took chemist jobs at Abbott Laboratories in North Chicago, Illinois. After working at Abbott for about five years, Debus decided to seek a PhD in the history of science, a field of study in only three schools: Harvard University, University of Wisconsin, and Cornell University. He chose Harvard, where he wrote his dissertation on the English Paracelsians under I. Bernard Cohen. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to University College in London, attracted there by Douglas McKie. He met Walter Pagel, who served as a long-distance dissertation advisor. When Debus returned he gave a paper at a meeting of the History of Science Society, at which Cohen introduced him to Cyril Smith of the University of Chicago. Debus was invited to meet the other faculty at University of Chicago and was then offered an assistant professorship. At that time there had been only seven previous PhD 's granted to history of science students at Harvard, and Debus was one of the first in the history of chemistry, so Debus' appointment was in the history department. Eventually the Morris Fishbein Center for the Study of the History of Science and Medicine was established at the University, and Debus became its first director. He retained his named chair into his retirement, which occurred in 1996. Debus' academic interest has long been 17th century chemistry. Paracelsus and people like him were interested not in making gold from base metals, but in understanding nature through analysis by fire. Debus wanted to study the place of chemistry in the scientific revolution with materials available to all; to that end he has a large collection of rare books from this time period, a collection he began in the early 1940's. He says that he has about 650 such books, the earliest from 1501. A scholar not just of the Paracelsians but also of vaudeville music, Debus also collects phonograph records dating from the 1890-1930's; of these he has more than 15,000, with 40 machines to play them on. He writes notes for historic compact discs of American popular music. Debus has won many prestigious awards in his nearly 40 years at the University of Chicago, and he has published many books and articles. He continues his research and his music-listening at his home in Deerfield, Illinois.