William G. McMillan

Born: October 19, 1919 | Montebello, CA, US
Died: Monday, November 25, 2002 | Los Angeles

McMillan discusses his upbringing in Montebello, California, having expressed an early interest in science, eventually attaining a B.A. in chemistry at UCLA, a M.S. at Columbia, and later on a Ph.D. in chemical physics. McMillan was employed in the Special Alloys and Materials Project, a forerunner to the Manhattan Project, but later joined the faculty of UCLA while working for the RAND Corporation as a consultant to the U. S. military. Also having worked with the Armed Forces in Vietnam, McMillan contracted hepatitis and developed blood chemistry analysis. Some of his personal research projects have included: global warming and ozone depletion issues; atmospheric studies of Venus; and Neutrinos work. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0104
No. of pages: 95
Minutes: 345

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
25 March 1992
Los Angeles, California

Abstract of Interview

William McMillan begins this interview with a discussion of his parents and youth in Montebello, California. The youngest of seven siblings, McMillan expressed an interest in science at an early age. He attended Montebello High School, where he was greatly influenced by his chemistry teacher, Leon Broock. After graduation, McMillan entered UCLA, receiving his B.A. in chemistry in 1941. Afterwards, he attended Columbia University and earned his M.S. in chemistry in 1943 and his PhD in chemical physics in 1945. While working towards his PhD degree, McMillan was employed in the Special Alloys and Materials Project, a forerunner to the Manhattan Project. While a post-doc at the University of Chicago, McMillan worked under Edward Teller. In 1947, McMillan joined the faculty of UCLA as an assistant professor of chemistry and remains there today as Professor Emeritus. He became chairman of UCLA's chemistry department in 1959 and worked to implement more student programs and offices at the university. During his tenure at UCLA, McMillan also worked for RAND Corporation as a consultant to the U. S. military. He helped form the Group on Weapons Effects, which later became the SAGE Advisory that reported on weapons tests. McMillan also worked with the Armed Forces in Vietnam, developing concepts for artillery and military reconnaissance. After contracting hepatitis in Vietnam, McMillan researched the disease and developed a blood chemistry analysis. Some of his personal research projects have included: global warming and ozone depletion issues; atmospheric studies of Venus; and Neutrinos work. In 1971, McMillan developed his own consulting company, McMillan Science Associates. He concludes the interview with thoughts on the future of the military and defense budget, and an expository analysis of the structure of electrons. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 University of California, Los Angeles BA Chemistry
1943 Columbia University MS Chemistry
1945 Columbia University PhD Chemical Physics

Professional Experience

Columbia University

1941 to 1944
Teaching Assistant
1944 to 1946
Research Assistant, Manhattan Project
1949
Visiting Professor

University of California, Los Angeles

1947 to 1951
Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry
1951 to 1958
Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry
1959 to 1990
Professor, Department of Chemistry
1959 to 1965
Chairman, Department of Chemistry
1990 to 1993
Professor Emeritus

Harvard University

1951 to 1952
Carothers Visting Lecturer

RAND Corporation

1954 to 1971
Senior Physicist

US Department of Defense

1966 to 1968
Science Advisor to Commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam

McMillan Science Associates

1971 to 1993
President

Honors

Year(s) Award
1938

Lena De Groff Scholarship, UCLA

1938

Pi Mu Epsilon (mathematics)

1939

Paramount Pictures Scholarship, UCLA

1940

Phi Lambda Upsilon, (chemistry), UCLA

1940

Phi Beta Kappa, UCLA

1942

Sigma Xi, Columbia University

1946 to 1947

Guggenheim Fellow, University of Chicago, Institute for Nuclear Studies

1957 to 1961

Alfred P. Sloan Fellow

1968

Distinguished Civilian Service Award, U. S. Department of the Army

1969

Distinguished Public Service Award, U. S. Department of Defense

1969

Knight of the National Order of Vietnam

1970

Exceptional Civilian Service Award, U. S. Department of the Air Force

1984

Exceptional Civilian Service Award, U. S. Department of the Air Force

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Parents. Growing up in Montebello, California. Siblings. Attending high school. Influence of Leon Broock. John D. Roberts. Attending UCLA. UCLA chemistry department.

Graduate School
7

Going to Columbia University. Teaching assistantship with Jacob Beaver. Joseph E. Mayer. Meeting Edward Teller. Course with Harold Urey. Special Alloys and Materials Project. UF6 process. Obtaining Ph.D.

Post Graduate School Activities
18

Manhattan Project. Army Scientific Advisory Board. Returning to UCLA as assistant professor. Working for RAND Corporation. David Griggs. Nancy McMillan.

Military Involvement
26

Ionizing radiation effect. Group on Weapons Effects. Atmospheric tests. Fragmacord Antipersonnel Mine. Military Issues in Vietnam. Conceptual development of SAM-defense suppression weapon. General Westmoreland. Creating new, unmined landing zones. Acoustic Locator System. Munitions development. Weekly Intelligence Estimate Update. Student response to Vietnam War.

Research Projects
42

Teaching the Defense Science Seminar. Chlorofluorocarbons. Atmosphere of Venus. Thunderstorms. Neutrinos. Astrophysics. Forming McMillan Associates.

Career
54

Molecular orbital theory. Teaching for a year at Harvard. Saul Winstein. Becoming chairman of chemistry department at UCLA. Growth of graduate program. Creating a better atmosphere for students. Interest in explosions. Contracting hepatitis. Coordinate treatment of electrolytes. Research on tunnel detection.

Final Thoughts
67

Ph.D. students. Future of military. Defense budget issues. Chemysteries. Electron structure. Importance of research.

Notes
83
Index
87

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.