Philip E. Eaton

Born: June 2, 1936 | Brooklyn, NY, US

Philip Eaton's oral history covers his childhood, undergraduate career at Princeton, graduate work at Harvard, and his long career at the University of Chicago. In this interview he discusses teaching, consulting, and his work in organic chemistry. Eaton concludes the interview with a discussion on the future or scientific research, maintaining excellence in chemistry education and research, and thoughts on his wife, Phyllis.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0152
No. of pages: 47
Minutes: 154

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
22 January 1997
Chicago, Illinois

Abstract of Interview

Philip Eaton begins the interview with a description of his childhood, parents, and early education in Brooklyn, New York. At age seven, Eaton and his family relocated to Budd Lake, New Jersey, where he attended Roxbury Grammar School and later Roxbury High School. Eaton displayed a great interest in science during his high-school years, and his parents’ and teachers’ encouragement strengthened his desire to major in chemistry. He attended Princeton University, receiving his BA in 1957. After graduating from Princeton, Eaton attended Harvard University for both his MA and PhD degrees. While at Princeton and Harvard, Eaton worked during the summers at Allied Chemical, where his group leader, Everett Gilbert, had a profound effect on his career. There, he first became involved with cage chemistry, specifically Kepone.  In his final years as a graduate student at Harvard, Eaton accepted a postdoctoral assistant professorship at the University of California, Berkeley. There he taught introductory organic chemistry with Melvin Calvin.  In 1962, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, where he remains a professor today. Shortly after his arrival at Chicago, Eaton began researching chlorocarbon compounds, which led him to cubane synthesis. With the assistance of his postdocs, Eaton synthesized on several other cubane-based compounds. Other projects included photochemistry work and dodecahedrane synthesis. Eaton’s students praised his teaching methods and his dedication to excellence in education. His research accomplishments have earned him several awards, including the Humboldt Award and the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award. Eaton concludes the interview with a discussion on the future or scientific research, maintaining excellence in chemistry education and research, and thoughts on his wife, Phyllis.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1957 Princeton University BA Chemistry
1960 Harvard University MA Chemistry
1961 Harvard University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of California, Berkeley

1960 to 1962
Assistant Professor

University of Chicago

1962 to 1965
Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry
1965 to 1972
Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry
1972 to 1999
Professor, Department of Chemistry

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

1963 to 1969
Research Fellow

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

1965 to 1977

National Institutes of Health

1968 to 1972

Eaton Associates

1983 to 1998

Dow Chemical Company

1983 to 1989

US Army

1984 to 1998

Enichem Synthesis

1985 to 1994

Flurochem, Inc.

1986 to 1991
1996 to 1998

Geo-Centers, Inc.

1988 to 1998

Displaytech Corporation

1990 to 1991

Steroids, Ltd.

1992 to 1995

DAS Group, Inc.

1996 to 1997

Eastman Chemical

1998 to 1999

SRI International

1986 to 1991


Year(s) Award

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow


Research Award, Rohm and Haas Company


Alexander von Humboldt Prize


Alan Berman Research Publication Award, Naval Research Laboratory, U. S. Navy


Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award, American Chemical Society

Table of Contents

Early Years

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, and Budd Lake, New Jersey. Early interest in science. Encouragement of teachers and parents. Decision to attend Princeton.

College and Graduate Education

Research work at Princeton. Kepone. Working with Peter Yates. NMR work. Working at Allied Chemical. Attending graduate school at Harvard. Assistant professorship at University of California, Berkeley. Teaching with Melvin Calvin.

University of Chicago

Leaving University of California for the University of Chicago. Michael J. S. Dewar. Quadrupole spectroscopy. Cage compounds. Cubane research and synthesis. Thomas W. Cole, Jr.

Synthetic Chemistry Research

Propellane molecules. PhD and postdoc assistants. Dodecahedrane. Horst Prinzbach and Leo Paquette syntheses.

Chemistry Education

Interaction with students. Research excellence. Education opportunities outside of the classroom. Setting high standards. Teaching methods. Winning Humboldt Award. Research funding.


Future of chemical discoveries. Research and development costs and support. Phyllis Eaton. Good science versus bad science.


About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.