Fred Basolo

Born: February 11, 1920 | Coello, IL, US
Died: Tuesday, February 27, 2007 | Skokie, IL, US

Fred Basolo played a major role in the development of the discipline of inorganic chemistry—what he refers to as “the birth of inorganic chemistry.”  The formation of the Inorganic Chemistry Gordon Research Conference, which Basolo helped organize, was a key factor in inorganic chemistry’s rising significance. Basolo describes the Inorganic GRC, as well as his heavy involvement in it.  He also discusses his role in GRC governance, first being nominated to council, then to the board of trustees, and eventually becoming the board chairman. He ends his interview with his thoughts about the future of chemistry and GRC.

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0264
No. of pages: 30
Minutes: 140

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray and Arthur Daemmrich
27 September 2002
Northwestern University Evanston, Illinois

Abstract of Interview

Fred Basolo begins the interview discussing his arrival at Northwestern University as an inorganic chemist in 1946. At that time, organic chemistry dominated the field of chemistry, and inorganic chemistry was seen as insignificant. Over the next few years, inorganic chemistry developed into a substantial component of chemistry. Basolo played a major role in that expansion—what he refers to as "the birth of inorganic chemistry." The formation of the Inorganic Chemistry Gordon Research Conference, which Basolo helped organize, was a key factor in inorganic chemistry's rising significance. Although there was no funding for the first conference and attendees had to pay their own travel and registration expenses, enough chemists participated to make the Inorganic GRC successful, and it developed into an annual event. Basolo describes the Inorganic GRC, as well as his heavy involvement in it, for which the conference presented him an award for his fifty years of service. Basolo also talks about his graduate studies under John C. Bailar, Jr., a coordination chemist for whom Basolo had a great deal of respect, and who instigated the first Inorganic Chemistry GRC. Following in Bailar's footsteps, Basolo specialized in coordination chemistry, and discovered the coboglobin site. Basolo also discusses his role in GRC governance, first being nominated to council, then to the board of trustees, and eventually becoming the board chairman. Basolo had concerns that the rapid growth of the organization and the Inorganic Conference could cause applicants to be turned away. Basolo ends his interview with his thoughts about the future of chemistry and GRC. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1940 Southern Illinois University B Ed
1942 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign MS Inorganic Chemistry
1943 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign PhD Inorganic Chemistry

Professional Experience

Rohm and Haas

1943 to 1946
Research Chemist

Northwestern University

1946 to 1948
Instructor
1948 to 1953
Assistant Professor
1953 to 1959
Associate Professor
1959 to 1980
Professor
1969 to 1972
Chairman of the Department of Chemistry
1980 to 1990
Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor
1990 to 2003
Emeritus Morrison Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1954 to 1955

Guggenheim Fellow, University of Copenhagen

1961 to 1962

Senior NSF Fellow, University of Rome

1964

Award for Research in Inorganic Chemistry, American Chemical Society (ACS)

1969

NATO Distinguished Professor, Technische Universität München

1971

North Regional Section Citation of Excellence, ACS

1972

John C. Bailar, Jr. Medal, University of Illinois

1974

Alumni Achievement Award, Southern Illinois University

1975

Award for Distinguished Service in Inorganic Chemistry, ACS

1976

Francis Patrick Dwyer Medal, University of New South Wales, Australia

1977

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

1977

Honorary Member, Phi Lambda Upsilon

1979

Fellow, Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science

1979

Member, National Academy of Sciences

1981

Honorary Member, Italian Chemical Society

1981

James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Teaching of Chemistry, Northeastern Section, ACS

1983

President, ACS

1983

Oesper Memorial Award, ACS, Cincinnati Section

1983

Corresponding Member, Chemical Society of Peru

1983

Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1984

D. Sc. (honorary), Southern Illinois University

1985

Honorary Professor, Lanzhou University, China

1987

Foreign Member, National Academy of Science, Italy

1988

Laurea honoris causa, University of Turin

1988

IX Century Medal, Bologna University

1988

Award for Research in Inorganic Chemistry, Italian Chemical Society

1988

Honorary Professor, Zhongshan University, China

1990

Harry and Carol Mosher Award, ACS, Santa Clara Valley

1991

Padova University Medal

1991

Distincion Bicentenaria, University of Los Andes in Merida

1991

Chinese Chemical Society Medal

1992

Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists

1992

Sigma Xi Monie A. Ferst Award

1992

Humboldt Senior U. S. Scientist Award

1993

Gold Medal Award, American Institute of Chemists

1996

First Lecturer and Medalist of the Royal Society of Chemistry Joseph Chatt Award

1996

Josiah Williard Gibbs Medal

1996

Member, Chemistry Department Hall of Fame, Southern Illinois University

1997

Laurea honoris causa, University of Palermo, Sacconi Memorial Lecture

2000

Obelisk Leadership Award, Southern Illinois University

2001

Joseph Priestly Medal

Table of Contents

Early Years in Inorganic Chemistry
1

First job at Rohm and Haas. The birth of American inorganic chemistry. Teaching at Northwestern University. Persuading Ralph G. Pearson to join the Northwestern faculty.

Development of the Inorganic Chemistry Gordon Research Conference (GRC)
3

First Inorganic Chemistry Conference. Economics of attendance. John C. Bailar as founder. Helping to organize the first conference. Willis Conrad Fernelius as first chair. Development of conference. Conference format. Keeping attendance numbers low. Industry representation and topics at early conferences. Coordination chemistry as a staple topic. German inorganic chemistry. Lack of funding for attendance by graduate students and faculty. Networking at conferences. Chairing the conference.

Early Involvement with the GRC Organization
12

Concerns about non-chemists attending Gordon Conferences. Expansion of GRC internationally and into other disciplines. Funding for the Inorganic Chemistry Conference from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Interactions with Alexander M. Cruickshank. Tuesday lunch tradition with inorganic chemists on the GRC board.

Dynamics of the Inorganic Chemistry Conferences
16

Conference chair election process. Funding for attendance. Recreation at conferences. Attendance by families of conferees. Conference locations.

Roles in GRC Governance and Management
21

Nomination to council. Election to board of trustees, selection and scheduling committee, and board chair. Development of subfields of inorganic chemistry. Relationship with American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Future of GRC and Inorganic Chemistry
23

Large size of GRC. Central role of chemistry in science. Need for recognition of chemistry. Growth of chemistry and molecular biology.

Notes
25
Index
26

About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.