Calvin S. Fuller

Born: May 25, 1902 | Chicago, IL, US
Died: Friday, October 28, 1994 | Vero Beach, FL, US
Photograph of Calvin S. Fuller

CHF Collections, Photograph by Jim Bohning

Dr. Fuller enlivens the interview with recollections of Harkins and Julius Stieglitz. Appointment as a research chemist under R. R. Williams at Bell Laboratories introduces Calvin Fuller to the infant science of synthetic polymers and to x­ray crystallography. World War II sees Fuller in Washington, DC, heading polymer chemistry research as part of the synthetic rubber program. On return to Bell Laboratories after the war, Fuller decides to move to solid state chemistry and describes his work on semiconductors, leading to the development of the photovoltaic cell.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0020
No. of pages: 56
Minutes: 186

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
29 April 1986
Futrell’s home, Richland, Washington

Abstract of Interview

In this interview Dr. Fuller traces his early years and the development of his interests in radio and in chemistry. Encouraged by an outstanding high school teacher, Fuller won a scholarship to the University of Chicago. Economic pressures forced him to break studies for periods of employment in the analytical laboratories of the General Chemical Company and as a photoengraver at the Chicago Tribune, but Fuller persists and completes his doctorate under W. D. Harkins. Dr. Fuller enlivens the interview with recollections of Harkins and Julius Stieglitz. Appointment as a research chemist under R. R. Williams at Bell Laboratories introduces Calvin Fuller to the infant science of synthetic polymers and to x-ray crystallography. World War II sees Fuller in Washington, DC, heading polymer chemistry research as part of the synthetic rubber program. On return to Bell Laboratories after the war, Fuller decides to move to solid state chemistry and describes his work on semiconductors, leading to the development of the photovoltaic cell.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1926 University of Chicago BS Chemistry
1929 University of Chicago PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

General Chemical Company

1920 to 1922
Analyst

Chicago Tribune

1924 to 1930

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1942 to 1944
Physical Chemist

Office of Rubber Reserve

1942 to 1944
Chief, Polymer Research

Bell Laboratories

1944 to 1950
Plastics Chemist
1950 to 1967
Chemical Physicist

US Department of Defense

1945 to 1950
Consultant, Research and Development Board

Honors

Year(s) Award
1956

John Scott Medal, City of Philadelphia

1963

John Price Wetherill Medal, Franklin Institute

1964

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

1981

Krupp Prize

1985

Photovoltaic Founders Award, IEEE

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education
1

Background of the Fuller and Souther families. Early interest in radio encouraged by uncle. Schooling in Chicago and developing liking for chemistry at high school. Influence of a physics teacher and scholarship to the University of Chicago.

Employment in the Chemical Industry and University Studies
5

Routine chemical analysis. Two year period of undergraduate study. Return to General Chemical Company, transfer to the Chicago Tribune. Summer classes at the University of Chicago; lectures from visiting scientists. Continuation as graduate student. W. D. Harkins as research advisor for project on magnetic susceptibility.

Bell Laboratories
20

Interview by R. R. Williams and position at Bell Labs. Effects of the Depression. Initial assignment on wire insulation and early polymer chemistry research. Synthesis and x-ray crystallography. Bell Laboratories organization in the thirties. Development of polymeric materials, especially in electrical applications.

Washington, DC and the Synthetic Rubber Program
31

Personalities and organization in the Rubber Program. Debye and early Gordon Conferences. Alleged novel rubber processes; a trip to Hollywood movie set, and a 'polyisoprene' synthesis. Further governmental responsibilities.

Return to Bell Laboratories
41

Organizational changes. Decision to move from polymer science to solid state chemistry. Diffusion in crystals. The photovoltaic cell. Work with Chapin and Pearson.

Notes
49
Index
51

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.