Norman Hackerman

Born: March 2, 1912 | Baltimore, MD, US
Died: Saturday, June 16, 2007 | Temple, TX, US
Photograph of Norman Hackerman

CHF Collections, Photograph by Douglas A. Lockard

Norman Hackerman recounts his seven years at Johns Hopkins University, where he received both his bachelor's and PhD degrees and developed interests in philosophy and psychology as well as in physical chemistry. remarks upon the difficulties the university encountered due to the Depression, and its effects upon laboratory equipment and research. He next describes his experiences teaching at Loyola College and consulting for the Colloid Corporation, his job with the Coast Guard at the Federal Lighthouse Service, his years at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and his work on the Manhattan District Project. The final portion of the interview briefly summarizes his early teaching background at the University of Texas, his consulting work for the Lone Star Gas Company, and his creation of the Corrosion Research Laboratory (now the Balcones Research Center).

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0083A
No. of pages: 37
Minutes: 150

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
23 October 1990
The Welch Foundation, Houston, Texas

Abstract of Interview

Norman Hackerman begins the interview by describing his childhood and the public education system in Baltimore, Maryland, noting the rigorous course work and individual attention students received at City College High School. He then recounts his seven years at Johns Hopkins University, where he received both his bachelor's and PhD degrees and developed interests in philosophy and psychology as well as in physical chemistry. He recalls the different labs in which he worked before his commitment to work in Patrick's lab on silica gel studies. Hackerman remarks upon the difficulties the university encountered due to the Depression, and its effects upon laboratory equipment and research. He next describes his experiences teaching at Loyola College and consulting for the Colloid Corporation, his job with the Coast Guard at the Federal Lighthouse Service, his years at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and his work on the Manhattan District Project. The final portion of the interview briefly summarizes his early teaching background at the University of Texas, his consulting work for the Lone Star Gas Company, and his creation of the Corrosion Research Laboratory (now the Balcones Research Center).

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1932 Johns Hopkins University AB Chemistry
1935 Johns Hopkins University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Loyola College

1935 to 1939
Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Colloid Corporation

1936 to 1940
Research Chemist

US Coast Guard

1939 to 1941
Assistant Chemist

Virginia Polytechnic Institute

1941 to 1943
Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Kellex Corporation

1944 to 1945
Research Chemist

University of Texas at Austin

1945 to 1946
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
1946 to 1950
Associate Professor of Chemistry
1948 to 1961
Director of the Corrosion Research Laboratory
1950 to 1970
Professor of Chemistry
1952 to 1961
Chairman of the Chemistry Department
1960 to 1961
Dean of Research and Sponsored Programs
1961 to 1963
Vice President and Provost
1963 to 1967
Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
1967 to 1970
President
1985
Professor of Chemistry Emeritus

Rice University

1970 to 1985
President
1970 to 1985
Professor of Chemistry
1985
President Emeritus
1985
Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Emeritus

Honors

Year(s) Award
1956

Whitney Award, National Association of Corrosion Engineers

1964

Joseph L. Mattiello Award

1965

Palladium Medal, The Electrochemical Society

1965

Southwest Regional Award, American Chemical Society

1972

LLD, St. Edwards University

1975

DSc, Austin College

1975

Honor Scroll, Texas Institute of Chemists

1978

DSc, Texas Christian University

1978

LLD, Abilene Christian University

1978

Gold Medal, American Institute of Chemists

1981

Mirabeau B. Lamar Award, Association of Texas Colleges and Universities

1982

Distinguished Alumnus Award, Johns Hopkins University

1984

Edward Goodrich Acheson Award, The Electrochemical Society

1984

Alumni Gold Medal for Distinguished Service, Rice University

1987

Charles Lathrop Parsons Award

1987

Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, American Association for the Advancement of Science

1993

Vannevar Bush Award, National Science Board

1993

Doctor of Public Service, University of North Texas

1993

National Medal of Science

1999

Texas Distinguished Scientist Award, Texas Academy of Science

Table of Contents

Family and Childhood
1

Parents stress education. Grows up in Baltimore. Attends public schools. Intense high school education encourages interest in chemistry. Attributes both self discipline and poor handwriting to elementary school.

Johns Hopkins University
6

Convenient location influences choice of school. Few scholarships available during Depression. Receives AB and PhD in seven years. First exposure to philosophy and psychology. Very strong freshman chemistry course. Tough qualitative analysis course. Interest in physical chemistry but no formal courses. Teaching assistant. Works with Reid on sulfur chemistry, accident permanently affects sense of smell. Works in x-ray lab for a while. Considers catalyst lab work rote. Chooses to do graduate work with Patrick, measuring zeta potential of silica gel with silver-silver chloride electrode, also determining molecular composition of sulfur monochloride dissolved in various solvents. Stays an extra year assisting freshman chemistry and working in lab since jobs scarce during Depression. Interest in developing reversible oxygen electrode. High quality faculty, but reduced because of Depression and school's bankruptcy. Must scrape for and build own equipment.

Loyola College
17

Teaches physical chemistry laboratories. Also consults for the Colloid Corporation, working on emulsifiers for food products. Applies to the Department of Agriculture.

United States Coast Guard
21

Gets position in analytical laboratory of Federal Lighthouse Service on Staten Island. Marries. Becomes interested in corrosion.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute
22

Assistant professor of chemistry. Directs physical chemistry labs. Very limited research opportunities. Teaches chemistry to participants in Army Specialized Training Program.

United States Navy
23

Enlists but is assigned to Manhattan District Project materials group. Travels to labs across country, ensuring against experimental duplication, following deterioration studies of flourine on nickel, and suggesting certain experiments. Description of K-25 plant and nickel corrosion worries.

University of Texas at Austin
24

Teaches chemistry and colloid chemistry. Continued interest in corrosion and deterioration. Consults for Lone Star Gas Company. Develops interest in inhibitors and passivity. Converts magnesium plant into Corrosion Research Laboratory. Support from the Research Corporation and Office of Naval Research.

Notes
31
Index
32

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.