The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Leo Brewer begins the interview with a description of his family and his early years growing up in Youngstown, Ohio. Brewer's father worked as a shoe repairman until the Depression hit in 1929. Brewer and his family then moved to Los Angeles. Brewer became interested in chemistry through the influence of a high-school chemistry teacher. After graduating from John Marshall High School, Brewer attended the California Institute of Technology. After receiving his BS in 1940, Brewer was advised by Linus C. Pauling to begin his graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied under Axel R. Olsen. Upon receiving his PhD, Brewer immediately joined the Manhattan Project as a research associate. Brewer's job was to use models in the periodic table to determine the worst properties of plutonium. Brewer tested refractory materials such as nitrites, carbides, lanthanides, actinides, sulfites, sulfides, and phosphides. He determined that cerium sulfide would serve as the best model. Later, Brewer predicted the electronic configuration of all the actinides. Brewer's research for the Manhattan Project found direct application at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and was later published as part of the Manhattan Project Technical Series. In 1946, Brewer joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley. During his career at Berkeley, Brewer worked in many fields, including organic chemistry, ceramics, astrochemistry, and even geology. Within these areas, he applied his thermodynamic research, including studying high-temperature molecules present in comets and stars, and the distribution of elements in the earth's gravitational field. He is currently a Emeritus Professor at Berkeley. As an educator, Brewer taught many courses on several levels, including freshman chemistry, inorganic chemistry, thermodynamics, and phase diagram equilibration. In more recent years, Brewer and his graduate students have branched their research into metallurgy. Brewer concludes the interview with a discussion of his published papers, the future of research support and application, and thoughts on the future of education.
|1940||California Institute of Technology||BS|
|1942||University of California, Berkeley||PhD|
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
University of California, Berkeley
Great Western Dow Fellow
Leo Hendrick Baekeland Award, North Jersey Section, American Chemical Society
E. O. Lawrence Award, Atomic Energy Commission
Palladium Medalist, Electrochemical Society
Distinguished Alumni Award, California Institute of Technology
William Hume-Rothery Award, Metallurgical Society AIME
Henry B. Linford Award for Distinguished Teaching, Electrochemical
Berkeley Citation, University of California, Berkeley
TMS Extractive Metallurgy Science Award
Fifty-year citation, American Chemical Society
Fifty-year citation, American Association of University Professors
Table of Contents
Parents' background. Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio. Parents' emphasis on education. Family relocation to Los Angeles. Influence of high-school chemistry teacher. Attending college at Caltech.
Linus C. Pauling, Ernst H. Swift, and H. L. Lucas. Selecting University of California at Berkeley for graduate studies. Kinetics work with Axel R. Olsen. Environment at Berkeley. Receiving PhD in 1942. Wendell Latimer.
Working with Manhattan Project. Plutonium research using models. Cerium sulfide. Sending crucibles to Los Alamos. Impervium. Analyzing oxygen content of plutonium. Using platinum. Acceptance of research.
Thermodynamics. Editing the standard Thermodynamics canon. Sabbatical at Imperial College. Nitrogen work. Cuprous chloride polymers. Predicting electronic configuration of actinides. Ceramics, astronomy, and geology research. Teaching method.
Joining faculty. Courses. Graphite studies. Testing students. Quality of today's students. Disseminating Neils Engel's research.
Metallurgic research. John Kouvetakis. Molybdenum predictions for the International Atomic Energy Agency. Thermodynamics. Need for using models in scientific research.
Support and application of research work. Cost of publishing books. Future of research. Future of chemical education. Funding cuts.
About the Interviewer
James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society. Bohning passed away in September 2011.