Herbert C. Brown

Born: May 22, 1912 | London, GB
Died: Sunday, December 19, 2004 | Lafayette, IN, US

Herbert C. Brown studied at Crane Junior College, where he became fascinated by chemistry and its history; when Crane closed down, Brown was among the students invited to work in Nicholas D. Cheronis' Synthetical Laboratories, where he earned enough to enroll in a University of Chicago correspondence course on qualitative analysis and supplemented his education by working with Fales's Quantitative Analysis. Brown continued his studies and lab work at Wright Junior College and the University of Chicago. During his career he worked at the University of Chicago, Wayne State University, and later Purdue University; during the interview he detailed his studies on steric effects, boranes, and borohydride synthesis. Brown worked for the National Defense Research Committee during Worald War II, which included research on the volatile compounds of uranium, uranium borohydride production and testing, sodium trimethoxyborohydride production, and sodium borohydride development. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0117
No. of pages: 51
Minutes: 149

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
11 November 1994
Purdue University

Abstract of Interview

Herbert C. Brown begins this interview by describing his high school education and the death of his father, which forced him to follow a practical path in seeking work and eventually a college education. Brown discusses his coursework and studies at Crane Junior College, where he became fascinated by chemistry and its history. When Crane closed down, Brown was among the students invited to work in Nicholas D. Cheronis' Synthetical Laboratories, where he earned enough money to enroll in a University of Chicago correspondence course on qualitative analysis. He supplemented his education by working with Fales's Quantitative Analysis. Brown continues the interview by recalling the details of his studies and lab work at Wright Junior College and the University of Chicago. He also describes his relationships with his wife, Sarah Baylen, his mentors, Juliuis Stieglitz and Morris Kharasch, who influenced the direction of his inorganic research and the path of this career, and Neil Gordon, who offered Brown a position at Wayne State University and supported his research efforts there. Brown recalls the course of his career decisions and research at Chicago, Wayne State, and later Purdue University. He includes details of studies on steric effects, boranes, and borohydride synthesis. In the second part of the interview, Brown discusses his WWII work for the National Defense Research Committee, which included research on the volatile compounds of uranium, uranium borohydride production and testing, sodium trimethoxyborohydride production, and sodium borohydride development. He concludes the interview with an overview of his post-war research at Purdue, which focused on reduction studies comparing sodium borohydride and lithium aluminum hydride, hydroboration discovery, explorations into organoborane chemistry, and the development of a general asymmetric synthesis program. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1935 Wilbur Wright Junior College Assoc. Sci.
1936 University of Chicago BS
1938 University of Chicago PhD Inorganic Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Chicago

1938 to 1939
Eli Lilly Postdoctoral Fellow
1939 to 1943
Instructor of Chemistry
1941 to 1943
Instructor and Research Investigator

Wayne State University

1943 to 1946
Assistant Professor
1946 to 1947
Associate Professor

Purdue University

1947 to 1959
Professor of Chemistry
1959 to 1960
Wetherill Professor of Chemistry
1960 to 1978
Wetherill Research Professor of Chemistry
1978 to 1995
Emeritus Wetherill Research Professor of Chemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1951

Sigma Xi Award, Purdue Section of Sigma Xi

1953

Harrison Howe Award, Rochester Section of the American Chemical Society

1955

Centenary Lectureship and Medal, The Chemical Society, London, England

1957

Elected to National Academy of Science

1959

William H. Nichols Medal, New York Section, American Chemical Society

1960

Award for Creative Research in Organic Chemistry, American Chemical Society

1960

S. O. C. M.A. Medal, Society of Organic Chemistry Manufacturing Association

1961

Phi Lambda Upsilon Key for Honorary Membership, Phi Lambda Upsilon

1962

Honorary Member, Phi Lambda Upsilon

1962

Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1968

Linus Pauling Medal, Oregon and Puget Sound Sections, American Chemical Society

1968

Doctor of Science, University of Chicago

1969

National Medal of Science

1971

Roger Adams Medal, Organic Division, American Chemical Society

1972

Phi Beta Kappa

1973

Charles Frederick Chandler Medal, Department of Chemistry, Columbia University

1974

Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists

1975

Madison Marshall Award

1976

City College of New York Chemistry Alumni Award and Medal for Scientific Achievement

1977

Elected Fellow, Indian National Science Academy

1977

Honorary Fellow, Royal Society of Chemistry

1978

C. K. Ingold Lecture and Medal, The Chemical Society, London

1978

Elliot Cresson Medal, The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia

1979

The Nobel Award and Medal, The Nobel Foundation, Stockholm, Sweden

1980

Medal of Culture, Ministry of Education, Taiwan, ROC

1980

Nobel Hall of Science, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

1980

Honorary Member, Chinese Chemical Society

1980

Honorary Old Master, Purdue University

1980

Doctor of Science, Wayne State University

1980

Doctor of Science, Lebanon Valley College

1980

Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Long Island University

1980

Doctor Philosophiae honoris causa, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

1980

Grado Academico Honorifico de Doctor Scientiae honoris causa, Pontificia

1981

Priestley Medal, American Chemical Society

1981

Doctor of Science, Purdue University

1981

Doctor in Scientiae honoris causa, University of Wales

1982

Perkin Medal, American Section, Society of Chemical Industry

1982

Elected Honorary Member, The Indiana Academy

1982

Honorary Member, Pharmaceutical Society of Japan

1982

Honorary Member, Chemical Society of Japan

1982

Corresponding Member, Academy of Arts and Sciences of Puerto Rico

1982

Doctor of Science, Butler University

1982

Docteur honoris causa, Université de Paris-Sud

1983

A. J. Beckman Memorial Medal, Colorado School of Mines

1983

Honorary Member, Gold Key National Honor Society

1985

A. I. C. Gold Medal, American Institute of Chemists

1985

Doctor of Science, Ball State University

1986

Sixtieth Anniversary Commemorative Medal, Jewish Academy of Arts and Sciences

1986

Sesquicentennial Commemorative Medal, National Library of Medicine

1987

National Academy of Sciences Award and Medal in Chemical Sciences, National Academy of Sciences

1987

G. M. Kosolapoff Award and Medal, Auburn Section, American Chemical Society

1987

Dedication of the H. C. Brown Laboratories of Chemistry

1989

Medal of the Government of Japan: Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star Emperor, Government of Japan

1990

Oesper Award, Cincinnati Section, American Chemical Society

1991

Honorary Member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of the Russian Federal Republic

1991

Corresponding Member, Academia Mexicana de la Investigation Cientifica

1994

Honorary Scholar, University of Wales, Swansea, Wales

1994

Honorary Professor, Laboratory of Organometallic Chemistry, Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences

1995

University Medal of Highest Honor, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Korea

1995

Distinguished Scholar Award, Indiana Academy of Science

1996

Visitante Distinguido, BUSA V-MEX, Mexico

1996

Visitante Distinguido, La Universidad de Guanajuato, Mexico

Table of Contents

Early Background and Education
1

High school education and influence of father's death. Crane Junior College and falling in love with chemistry. Interest in history of chemistry. Work in Nicholas D. Cheronis' laboratories, University of Chicago correspondence course on qualitative analysis, and work with Fales's Quantitative Analysis. Sarah Baylen. Coursework and experimenting at Wright Junior College. Earning competitive scholarship to the University of Chicago.

University of Chicago
5

Coursework and accelerated schedule. Laboratory experiences. Stieglitz's influence in pursuing doctoral studies and postponing marriage plans. Stieglitz's background, general influence, and encouragement in pursuit of inorganic studies. Place of inorganic studies at that time. Postdoc with Morris Kharasch. Tenure structure at the university and decision to leave. Kharasch's help in securing position at Wayne State University. Neil Gordon.

Wayne State University
11

Appointment and reduced teaching load arrangements. Lab accomodations and beginning of program on steric effects. Meeting Henry Hass and subsequent invitation to lecture at Purdue. Offer of position as Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and decision to accept.

Purdue University
14

Reception from faculty. Boranes book and rationale behind research program. Example of asymmetric synthesis: industrial versus academic research. Discussion of early interest in hydrides of boron; work with Norman Davidson; and work with Schlesinger synthesizing aluminum, berylium, and lithium borohydrides.

Work for National Defense Research Committee
19

Research in volatile compounds of uranium. Creation of uranium borohydride and need for large-scale production and testing. Production of sodium trimethoxyborohydride. Sodium borohydride work for Army Signal Corps. Attitude toward patents and licensing.

Post-War Research at Purdue University
24

Reduction studies comparing sodium borohydride and lithium aluminum hydride. Discovery of hydroboration. Reaction of scientific community. Exploration of organoborane chemistry. General asymmetric synthesis program.

Notes
35
Index
37

About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

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.