N. Bruce Hannay

Born: February 9, 1921 | Mt. Vernon, WA, US
Died: Sunday, June 2, 1996 | Bremerton, WA, US

While still at Princeton, Hugh Taylor involved N. Bruce Hannay in the Manhattan Project, and after receiving his PhD in 1944, Hannay took a job with Bell Laboratories, where he continued that work. Once the war ended, Hannay began research on the mechanisms of thermionic emission from oxide cathodes. The invention of the transistor in 1947 led him to focus on silicon, which was deemed more useful in semiconductor research than single crystals of germanium. This work resulted in Hannay's development of a mass spectrograph to analyze solids.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0137
No. of pages: 60
Minutes: 173

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
9 March 1995
Baltimore, Maryland

Abstract of Interview

The interview begins with Dr. Hannay describing his family background and his early education in Washington state. Both his high school chemistry teacher and his older brother greatly influenced his decision to pursue chemistry and to attend Swarthmore College, where he received a BA in chemistry in 1942. With the advent of World War II, Hannay received a student deferment from the draft because his doctoral thesis at Princeton University—involving the measurement of dipole moments—related to the synthetic rubber program. While still at Princeton, Hugh Taylor involved him in the Manhattan Project and after receiving his PhD in 1944, Hannay took a job with Bell Laboratories, where he continued his work on the Manhattan Project. Once the war ended, Hannay began research on the mechanisms of thermionic emission from oxide cathodes. The invention of the transistor in 1947 led him to focus on silicon, which was deemed more useful in semiconductor research than single crystals of germanium. This work resulted in Hannay's development of a mass spectrograph to analyze solids. Soon after, Bell Labs asked him to coordinate the silicon research. In 1954, Hannay became a research supervisor, and he discovered a preference for management. Following this inclination, he continued on at Bell Labs in various management capacities until his retirement in 1982. This interview concludes with Hannay's brief assessment of the chemical industry and its need for more research autonomy.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1942 Swarthmore College BA Chemistry
1943 Princeton University MA Physical Chemistry
1944 Princeton University PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1942 to 1960
Research Chemist
1960 to 1967
Chemical Director
1967 to 1973
Executive Director, Research, Material Science and Engineering
1973 to 1982
Vice President, Research and Patents

Honors

Year(s) Award
1976

Acheson Medal, The Electrochemical Society

1978

Honorary PhD, Tel Aviv University

1979

Honorary DSc, Swarthmore College

1981

Honorary DSc, Polytechnic Institute of New York

1983

Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education
1

Family background. High school interest in chemistry. Influence of brother.

College Education
4

Attendance at Swarthmore College. Laboratory experience. Outbreak of World War II. Graduate work at Princeton University with Charlie Smyth. Doctoral thesis on dipole moments. Teaching assistantship in physics.

Manhattan Project
17

Involvement of Hugh Taylor. Transition to Bell Laboratories. Work on gaseous diffusion. Discussion of atomic bomb.

Career at Bell Labs
22

Research freedom. Discussion of importance of silicon. Development of mass spectrograph to analyze solids. Evolution of solid state chemistry. Promotion through research management. Work with gallium arsenide.

Retirement
47

Consulting at Rohm and Haas, Eastman Kodak, Atlantic Richfield. Foreign Secretary of National Academy of Engineering.

Views on Chemical Research and Development
51

Importance of intellectual freedom in research.

Notes
54
Index
56

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.