William von Eggers Doering
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
William von Eggers Doering begins these interviews with a discussion of his early life and family background. His parents were both musicians, and met while they were both studying music in Leipzig. When World War I broke out, they moved to the United States, and his father became a vital statistician. His father eventually got a job teaching at Harvard University's School of Public Health, and the family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Doering was influenced by his teachers during his early education to pursue science. After graduating from high school, Doering attended Harvard University, where he was inspired to major in chemistry. At Harvard, he took courses with Arthur Lamb, Louis Fieser, Elmer Kohler, and Paul Bartlett. Kohler encouraged Doering to continue on to graduate school, so he earned his PhD in organic chemistry at Harvard in 1943. During his years as a graduate student, he did some research with Louis Fieser on new explosives, including trinitrobenzylnitrate, as well as anti-mustard gas work with Eric Ball. After he completed his graduate work, he joined Robert B. Woodward's team at Harvard, who was attempting to synthesize quinine. Less than a year later, Doering took an instructorship at Columbia University, but continued with the quinine project in his free time. Doering outlines his relationship with Woodward, the difficulties of the quinine work, and the impact of that research on his career. Doering spent nine years at Columbia before moving on to Yale University in 1952. While at Columbia, he helped to establish the Hickrill Chemical Research Foundation, which focused on postdoctoral research. It was there that Doering did most of his work on carbene. In the 1960s, he was asked to join the Board of Leo Szilard's new organization, Council for a Livable World. For over fifteen years, Doering was active in lobbying for this organization. Throughout his career, Doering was also a consultant for various companies. At Yale, Doering became Director of the Division of Sciences, and began to realize that administrative duties were taking too much time from his research. He planned to go to the University of Karlsruhe, but Woodward offered him a position at Harvard. Doering concludes the interviews with a discussion of his graduate students, his colleagues, and his interactions with Fudau University in China.
|1943||Harvard University||PhD||Organic Chemistry|
Council for a Livable World
John Scott Medal, City of Philadelphia
Pure Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society
A. W. Hofmann Medal, Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker
Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry, American Chemical Society
William C. DeVane Medal, Yale University
Theodore Williams Richards Medal, American Chemical Society, Northeastern Section
Humboldt Senior Fellowship, Federal Republic of Germany
DSc, honorary, Texas Christian University
Honorary Professorship, Fudau University, Shanghai
D. Nat. Sci., honoris causia, University of Karlsruhe
James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry, American Chemical Society, Northeastern Section
Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry
Table of Contents
Father's career as vital statistician. Family life. School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Influence of early teachers. Impact of Depression.
Decision to attend Harvard University. Influence of professors, including Louis Fieser and Elmer Kohler. Chemistry department at Harvard. Decision to continue for graduate degree. Studying with Carl Noller and Sir Reginald Linstead. Anti-mustard gas research. Explosives work with Fieser.
Working with R. B. Woodward. Accepting position at Columbia University. Working on quinine during breaks. Difficulties with homomeroquinene samples. Relationship with Polaroid. Media coverage.
Teaching Naval cadets. Relationship with graduate students. Relationship with Louis Plack Hammett. First graduate student. Establishment of Hickrill Chemical Research Foundation. "No mechanism" reaction and the Cope rearrangement. Tropolone work. Carbene research.
Decision to leave Columbia. Chemistry department. Influence of colleagues.
Invitation from Leo Szilard. Supporting political candidates opposed to use of nuclear weapons. Experience in Washington, D. C. Involvement of other scientists. Fundraising efforts.
Work for Humble Oil, Esso, Proctor & Gamble. Frustrations with consulting. Polyurethane research at Carwin Company.
Decision to leave Yale. Influence of Woodward. Research contradicting Woodward-Hoffmann rules. Comparison of Yale and Harvard.
Postdocs. Changes in physical chemistry. Education of Chinese chemists.
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.