Paul M. Doty

Born: June 1, 1920 | Charleston, WV, US
Died: December 5, 2011 | Cambridge, MA, US

Paul Doty's oral history describes his life and work in organic chemistry, ranging from an early interest in chemistry, to graduate work with polymers, to his eventual work on denaturation of proteins. Additionally, the interview covers Doty's activism with regard to both national and academic policies. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0062
No. of pages: 47
Minutes: 120

Interview Sessions

Raymond C. Ferguson
17 November 1986
Harvard University

Abstract of Interview

Paul Doty begins by describing his family's background and his early education in Western Pennsylvania. He also recalls attending the ACS national meeting while he was still a teenager. He describes his impressions of Pennsylvania State College under Frank Whitmore, and the influence of John G. (Jack) Aston. Examining his selection of Columbia University for graduate studies, Doty describes the famous scientists there at that time and the effects of World War II; next he discusses how thesis research in physical chemistry led to work on light scattering and polymers. He remembers his coworkers, including Bruno Zimm and Turner Alfrey, and his postdoc in Eric Rideal's laboratory at Cambridge University, where he was first drawn to research in biopolymers. Doty recounts his early research at Harvard University, including protein denaturation and renaturation, and describes his colleagues. He continues the interview with an account of the development of biochemistry at Harvard and his involvement in public service and activism in nuclear and international issues. Finally, Paul Doty reflects on national characteristics in academic policy. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 Pennsylvania State University BS Chemistry
1944 Columbia University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, New York

1943 to 1945
Instructor, Research Associate and Co-Director of Quartermaster Projects
1945 to 1946
Assistant Professor of Physical Chemistry

University of Notre Dame

1947 to 1948
Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Harvard University

1948 to 1950
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
1950 to 1956
Associate Professor of Chemistry
1956 to 1968
Professor of Chemistry
1967 to 1970
Chairman, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
1968 to 1987
Mallinckrodt Professor of Biochemistry


Year(s) Award
1946 to 1947

Rockefeller Fellow, Cambridge University, England

1950 to 1951

Guggenheim Fellow, held in 1958, Cambridge University


Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences


Priestly Lecturer, Pennsylvania State University


Award in Pure Chemistry, American Chemical Society


Edgar Fahs Smith Lecturer, University of Pennsylvania


Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences


Harrison Howe Lecturer, University of Rochester


Harvey Lecturer

1961 to 1965

Member, President's Science Advisory Committee


Senior Fellow, Society of Fellows, Harvard University


DSc, University of Chicago


Gold Medal Award, City College Chemistry Alumni Association


Fellow, American Philosophical Society


Robertson Memorial Lecturer, National Academy of Sciences


Dedication Lecture, Mitsubishi-Kasei Institute of Life Sciences, Tokyo


25th Anniversary Lecture, Brandeis University


J. T. Donald Lecture in Chemistry, McGill University


Foreign Member, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts

Table of Contents

Childhood, Early and College Education

High school interest in chemistry. BS in chemistry from Pennsylvania State College. PhD in chemistry from Columbia University.

Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute

Teaching position at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. Co-directorship.

Rockefeller Fellowship at Cambridge University

European contacts. Early light scattering research.

Research at Harvard University

Synthetic polymer research. Consulting work for Union Carbide. Introduction ofoptical rotary dispersion method. Work on denaturation and renaturation of DNA. Work on protein synthesis. Work on mapping the collagen gene.

Professorship in Chemistry at Harvard University

Founding of Biochemistry Department. Founding of three journals.

Public Service

Election to the National Research Council. Appointment to the President's Science Advisory Committee. Opinions on government science funding and policy.


About the Interviewer

Raymond C. Ferguson

Raymond C. Ferguson obtained his degrees in chemistry from Iowa State University (BS, MS) and Harvard University (PhD). He worked in research divisions of the Organic Chemicals, Elastomer Chemicals, and Central Research Departments of DuPont, principally in molecular spectroscopy, organic structure analysis, and polymer characterization. Currently he is affiliated with CONDUX, Inc., a consulting association of former DuPont professionals.