Browse Oral Histories Alphabetically

This interview describes Dr. Edgar W. Spanagel's life, focusing on his contributions to nylon research at the DuPont Company. Spanagel grew up in Wisconsin and attended Lawrence College. Spanagel secured a scholarship to McGill University, where he worked under Charles F. H. Allen. Spanagel, completed his PhD in 1933. He accepted a position as a DuPont Research Chemist in Wallace Carothers' polymer group. 

Jack B. St. Clair begins by describing his childhood in Virginia and Louisiana. After graduating from Tulane University, he accepted a position as technical trainee, gas department, at Shell Oil Company's Houston, Texas, refinery. Despite the lack of formal training, St. Clair readily accepted increasing responsibilities, recognizing he was being groomed for higher management After briefly serving as Houston refinery superintendent, he reluctantly moved to England as Shell International Petroleum Company, North American Division head and later the New York Head Office general manager and was quickly promoted to Shell Chemical Company president in 1967. 

Jonathan S. Stamler was born near Oxford, England; his family moved to Israel when he was eleven.  An unenthusiastic high school student, Stamler focused on tennis, earning a spot on the national team and playing in the Davis Cup. He was accepted at Brandeis University, where he wanted only to continue his tennis career. After a hazing injury took him off the court for a year, he decided to turn his attention to his studies. By sophomore year he was pre-med. He finished Phi Beta Kappa and was accepted to Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. He found his preceptor, Ray Matta, who inspired Stamler to study cardiology. While doing his residency at Brigham and Women's Hospital, he read about free radicals and started researching them. Eventually he came upon nitric oxide, still his area of interest. After several fellowships and a stint at Harvard University, he was recruited by Duke University, where he received tenure within two years. 

Kenneth Standing grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Standing says he ended up in science by process of elimination, by gradually ruling out subjects he did not love. He won a senior scholarship to the University of Manitoba. World War II intervened, and he joined the University Naval Training Division for a year. For his PhD, Standing followed a friend to Princeton University’s physics department, where he worked on scintillation counting in Rubby Sherr’s nuclear physics lab and then on a fast-cycling cloud chamber with Milton White. As a faculty member at the University of Manitoba, Standing was one of the first to study gamma-ray scattering. He spent five years building a cyclotron for Manitoba, tried to help fix the one in Grenoble, France, and then returned to Manitoba to become director of the cyclotron there. A project analyzing protein in wheat for the Grain Research Laboratory, and the arrival of Brian Chait from University of Oxford, pushed Standing toward mass spectrometry. Standing discusses developing and perpetuating the field of time-of-flight mass spec, citing as his most important contribution his 1981 publication of the design of his original time-of-flight mass spectrometer.

William S. Stavropoulos begins with a discussion of his family, his childhood, and education in Bridgehampton, New York. In 1961, Stavropoulos attended Fordham University, where he received a BS in pharmacy. Having received his PhD in medical chemistry from the University of Washington, Stavropoulos was hired at Dow Chemical as a research chemist. In 1980, he became Commercial Vice President of Dow Latin America. In 1995, Dr. Stavropoulos was named CEO of Dow Chemical Company. Dr. Stavropoulos concludes the interview with his thoughts on winning the American Chemical Industry Medal in 2001. 

Richard Stein begins by reflecting on the New York City schools which provided a real stimulus, especially in mathematics and science, to him and his contemporaries. Stein attended Brooklyn Technical High School and Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, where he completed a senior project on light scattering with Paul Doty. Stein then accepted a Textile Foundation fellowship at Princeton University. In the three years of his PhD program he worked under Henry Eyring, Robert Rundle and Arthur Tobolsky. An NRC fellowship took Richard Stein from Princeton to Cambridge to work on infrared dichroism under Gordon Sutherland and he recalls the austerities of life in postwar England and the primitive facilities in the Cambridge physical chemistry laboratories. He returned to the US and was appointed to an assistant professorship in the chemistry department of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Stein describes his heavy teaching load, how he started his research program and the growth of polymer interests at UMass. The latter led to the inauguration of the Polymer Research Institute at UMass and Stein reflects on the academic interactions between chemistry and polymer science.  

For more information on Hermann Steller, please visit the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences.

For more information on this oral history, please contact the Director of the Center for Oral History. 

Leo H. Sternbach begins with a discussion of his family and childhood in Austria and Poland during the First World War. He enrolled in a PhD program in organic chemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute. After beginning work with Hoffmann-La Roche in Basel, increasing pressure to leave Switzerland compelled him to immigrate to the United States, where he continued work with the company in Nutley, New Jersey. Sternbach recalls that he was instructed to terminate his study of benzodiazepines but continued the research unofficially, which led to his significant discoveries of Librium, Valium, and other related drugs.

Walter Stockmayer describes early influences directing him towards the chemical sciences. He first became interested in the mathematical aspects of physical chemistry as an undergraduate at MIT.  A Rhodes Scholarship brought Stockmayer to Oxford, where he undertook gas kinetics research with D. L. Chapman. Stockmayer returned to MIT for PhD research and pursued his study of statistical mechanics, which he continued at Columbia. He returned to MIT in 1943 as an assistant professor of chemistry and became involved in the theory of network formation and the gelation criterion. He increasingly directed his attention to theories of polymer solutions, light scattering and chain dynamics. Stockmayer discusses his Guggenheim Fellowship in Strasbourg, France, his first meeting with Hermann Staudinger in Freiburg, Germany, and his subsequent return to MIT. He moved to Dartmouth University in 1961, where he worked primarily on copolymers in dilute solution, established the journal Macromolecules, and collaborated with numerous Japanese scientists. He describes the Gordon Conferences and the polymer community since the 1940s. Stockmayer concludes with his retirement and work as a consultant for Du Pont and other companies. 

Markus Stoffel was born in Cologne, Germany. He was interested in science from an early age, and spent an influential high school year abroad in Cambridge, England, where he was struck by the specialization of the educational system. Interested in medicine, Stoffel began studying at Rheinische Friedrich-Willhelms-Universität, but was soon drawn back to Cambridge University. Next, Stoffel took an internship at University of Hamburg and another at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in New York. Influenced by a budding interest in the genetics of diabetes, Stoffel worked under Graeme I. Bell at the University of Chicago, before accepting a position at Rockefeller University, working on a chromosome 20 project and looking at the genes and transcription factors involved in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes. 

Gilbert Stork begins his interview with a description of his childhood and family background in Paris. Stork and his family moved to the United States in 1939. Stork earned his BS at the University of Florida in 1942, and in 1945 he received his PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Wisconsin. Stork’s graduate work and early career focused on synthesis related to quinine and stereochemical control in synthesis. His first employment after receiving his PhD was with Lakeside Laboratories, working on estrone synthesis. Stork left Lakeside in 1946 and began an instructorship at Harvard University. While at Harvard, he also consulted for the Syntex Corporation. In 1953, Stork left Harvard and joined the faculty of Columbia University, where he continued his organic synthesis research. Stork concludes the interview with a discussion of various developments in organic chemistry, the future of university research funding, and memorable students and co-workers.

Carlyle B. Storm begins by describing his family background and chosen academic path. After obtaining his PhD, Storm became a professor of chemistry at Howard University. In the early 1980s, he accepted a position at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he researched conventional high explosives as chief scientist, becoming program manager in 1989. Storm first attended Gordon conferences in the early 1970s, and in 1988, founded and chaired the Energetic Materials Conference. Storm’s experiences managing scientists at Los Alamos and working with non-profit boards uniquely qualified him to become the director of the Gordon Research Conferences in 1993. As director, Storm traveled to many conferences, improved administrative processes, and evaluated the economic, participation dynamics, and governance of the organization. Storm feels strongly that graduate students should participate in the conferences, and has encouraged their participation through programs such as the Gordon-Kenan Summer Schools and Graduate Research Seminars. Storm concludes the interview by recalling scientific advances that have been realized as a result of the interaction among leading scientists at the Gordon Research Conferences.

Andrew Streitwieser begins this interview by describing his family, early education, and undergraduate days at Columbia University. He then elucidates his graduate education at Columbia, stressing the influence of William Doering upon his work, before describing his research on molecular orbital theory as a fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Streitwieser then discusses the emergence of organic chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and his own ambitious and productive research program there.

Michel Streuli was born in Zürich, Switzerland. In school he liked mathematics and engineering. He had always wanted to be a doctor and a scientist, and based on its pediatrics program, he attended Tufts University. Then he returned to Zürich to work in Charles Weissman's lab, where he worked on cloning interferon. After five years, he took a position at Dana-Farber Cancer Center to work in Stuart F. Schlossman's lab. He found a place in Haruo Saito's lab, working on cloning antigens, specifically the antigen CD45, the leukocyte common antigen. He then accepted an assistant professorship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Center and Harvard University. He is now an associate professor and continues his research. He hopes that his work, which is aimed at understanding the basic mechanisms of the cell, may help others develop new cancer therapies and diagnostic tools.

Lubert Stryer was born in China, where his family lived until he was about ten. During World War II, his family escaped notice of the Japanese, and after the war obtained visas for the United States. In high school, Stryer planned to become a lawyer, but the head of the science department asked him to do some research on bioluminescent bacteria, and Lubert was hooked. By his last year of medical school at Harvard, Stryer knew that he did not want to practice medicine and began a career in research. He worked with Nobel Prize winners in Cambridge, then Stanford, and finally gained a professorship at Yale before returning to Stanford. Using the notes he developed for his class in biochemistry Stryer wrote his now-canonical textbook.

P. Todd Stukenberg attended Colgate University, where he designed his own molecular biology curriculum, working in Ken Burns’ lab. He did a joint PhD at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Cornell University Medical College, where he discovered sliding clamps while working in Michael O’Donnell’s lab. For postdoctoral work he entered Marc Kirschner’s lab, where he patented in vitro expression cloning. He began his still-continuing work on Aurora B and kinetochore complex Ndc80 and collaborated on Pin1 with Kun Ping Lu. Stukenberg accepted a job offer from the University of Virginia. Believing yeast training to be important, he established a friendship and collaboration with Daniel Burke. He found that Ndc80 complex worked well in Xenopus and developed the use of egg extracts. He explains why he promotes Aurora B as a new class of oncogenes. He explains how kinetochore is involved in binding microtubules and sending a spindle checkpoint signal, for which he has coined the phrase “ionic spaghetti.”

David J. Sullivan, Jr., grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, surrounded by a large and supportive family. He cites the importance of his family's Catholicism, strong work ethic, and their emphasis on Scouting in fostering his interests. His scientific interests blossomed throughout the 1980s against the backdrop of HIV and other infectious diseases, and he became interested in bioethics during medical school. Sullivan also worked at a clinic in Mussoorie, India, during the last few months of medical school, an experience he describes in detail. During his residency at Washington University in St. Louis, Sullivan worked with Daniel E. Goldberg and concentrated his infectious disease research on Malaria. Continuing his efforts on heme crystallization and Zinc photoporphyrin-9, Sullivan brought his research to Johns Hopkins University, where he is today.

Hong Sun was born in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution. This provided a chaotic education, including a year of re-education in the countryside and family separation. The return of the college admission program allowed Sun to pursue her interest in science at Beijing Medical College. She took part in the school's research program, studying the binding affinity of monoclonal antibodies against aflatoxin. Sun received first place in the China United States Biochemistry Examination and Admission (CUSBEA) program examination and attended Harvard University for her doctorate. There, she worked with Jack W. Szostak on the recombination process in meiosis. Next, she took a postdoctoral position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory with Nicholas K. Tonks, researching the protein tyrosine phosphatase and MKP-1. She is now at Yale University.

Karel Svoboda was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, but grew up in Germany. Wanting to avoid Germany's mandatory military service, Svoboda attended undergrad in the United States at Cornell University, where he worked in a number of research labs. After a year teaching in Nepal, he went to Harvard for graduate studies. His love of Bell Laboratories during his undergraduate years brought him back there for postdoctoral research on synapses with Winfred Denk and David Tank, and gave him the opportunity to take an influential course on neural systems at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Svoboda is now at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, studying biophysical neuroscience in neocortical circuits and their plasticity, with the intent of expanding his work to ensembles of neocortical circuits.

Michael Szwarc begins with his early interest in science while growing up in Poland, leading to his studies at the Warsaw Polytechnic Institute. Szwarc next describes his experiences from 1935, when he emigrated to Israel, until his move to the University of Manchester in 1945. At Manchester, he worked in Michael Polanyi's physical chemistry group and first embarked on his studies on polymerization. He describes a 1950s visit to the US, involving many lecture trips, and the circumstances leading to his acceptance of a professorship at SUNY, Syracuse. Research on the methyl affinities of aromatic compounds led Szwarc to work with the naphthalene radical anion and, hence, to the development of the living polymers. The interview ends with Szwarc reviewing his later studies and his reflections on co-workers and associates.