Melvin S. Newman

Born: March 10, 1908 | New Orleans, LA, US
Died: May 30, 1993 | Columbus, OH, US

Melvin S. Newman, an eminent organic chemist, comments on his undergraduate and graduate work at Yale and his experiences at Ohio State University, where he spent most of his academic career researching, advising, and teaching both in the classroom and laboratory. Newman also discusses his publications, use of the innovative "Newman Projection," consulting, patents, and awards.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0004
No. of pages: 87
Minutes: 351

Interview Sessions

John H. Wotiz and Milton Orchin
3-4 March 1979
Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Abstract of Interview

This interview covers the education, teaching, and research of Melvin S. Newman, an eminent organic chemist. Initially, Newman discusses his family, childhood, and early education. He then elucidates his undergraduate and graduate activities at Yale and describes his initial experiences at Ohio State University, where he has spent most of his academic career. The interview continues with Newman's remarks about his early consulting and doctoral advising. The central portion of the interview contains Newman's reflections about his research at Ohio State and his approach to teaching in the classroom and in the laboratory. His publications, use of the innovative “Newman Projection,” later consulting, patents, and awards are also discussed. The interview concludes with Newman's views about research funding, former students, and philosophies of teaching and administration. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1929 Yale University BS Chemistry
1932 Yale University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Ohio State University

1936 to 1939
1940 to 1944
Assistant Professor
1944 to 1965
1965 to 1978
Regents Professor
1978 to 1980
Emeritus Professor

US Bureau of Mines


The Upjohn Company

1945 to 1978

University of Glasgow

Fulbright Professor
Fulbright Professor

Yale University

National Tuberculosis Association Fellow, Yale University

Columbia University

National Research Council Fellow

Harvard University

1934 to 1936
Research Fellow


Year(s) Award
1939 to 1940

Howald Scholar, Ohio State University


Guggenheim Fellow


Guggenheim Fellow


Elected member of National Academy of Sciences


American Chemical Society Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry


Honorary DSc degree, University of New Orleans


Wilbur Cross Medal, Yale University


Joseph Sullivant Award, Ohio State University


Honorary DSc degree, Bowling Green State University


Roger Adams Award of American Chemical Society


Honorary DSc degree, Ohio State University

Table of Contents

Childhood and Family

Siblings. Father's occupation. Relocation from New Orleans to New York City. Early love of sports. Tutoring by an organic chemist.

Undergraduate Years at Yale

Preoccupation with golf. A major in chemistry.

Graduate Years at Yale

Parental pressure to go into business. Graduate work in chemistry. R. J. Anderson as thesis director and lessons that he taught. The thesis topic.

Initial Encounters at Ohio State University

Prof. William Evans. Salary. Teaching assignments. The chemistry faculty at Ohio State. Promotion to assistant professor.

Consulting Work at Upjohn

Hired as a consultant. The vitamin A synthesis. Liquid ammonia syntheses.

Early Doctoral Advising

Lloyd Joshel. Milton Orchin. Harold Vivian.

Methodology and Innovative Aspects of Teaching

Initial experiences in the classroom. Teach a few things well rather than a lot of things poorly. " Importance of showing students the worth of organic chemistry to society. Emphasis upon independent study. The program to acquaint outstanding high school students with the enterprise of chemistry.

Research at Ohio State

Polycyclic hydrocarbon work. The general synthesis of benzanthracene derivatives. Pseudoesters and sterifications. Work with sulfuric acid. The application of physical chemistry to specific problems.

Newman Projections

The genesis. Its advantages. Three dimensional representation on a flat surface.

Philosophy of Laboratory Instruction

Independent work stressed. Accountability for ninety percent yield of products.

More Research and Publishing

Steric Effects in Organic Chemistry. Optical activity in hydrocarbons. Aromatic electrophilic substitution. Work with 4,5-dimethylacridine.

Additional Consulting

Continental Oil Company. Diamond Alkali. International Flavors and Fragrances. The National Academy of Sciences.

Activity in the Laboratory

An eclectic approach. Unsaturated carbonium ions. Work with vinylene carbonate.


A decision that allowed researchers at universities to patent their discoveries. Several patents mentioned.


Modesty. The true award: chemistry well done.

Advice to Students

The value of persistence. Give graduate students the opportunity to use individual initiative. The Rule of Six is a qualitative aid.

Research and Funding

Monomethyl ether. The necessity to research "useful" topics.

Graduate and Postdoctoral Students

Advice about career orientation. The students' success and commitment. Students from varied backgrounds. Foreign students.

Philosophy of Administration

Advocacy for strong departmental chairmen. Separate teaching and administration on the departmental level. Considerations about tenure. Abuses in the granting of tenure.

Philosophy of Teaching

Encourage independence and initiative on the part of students. A unique lab course. The teaching of chemistry stresses lectures at the expense of laboratory work. "

About the Interviewer

Milton Orchin

Milton Orchin is an organic chemist with an interest in the history of chemistry. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Ohio State University. One of Melvin Newman’s first graduate students, he earned a PhD from Ohio State in 1939. Since then, he has combined research in federal laboratories, especially for the United States Bureau of Mines, with university teaching both at home and abroad.

John H. Wotiz

John H. Wotiz was an organic chemist. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1919, he attended Furman University, the University of Richmond, and Ohio State University, where he received his PhD degree in organic chemistry. He taught at six universities, most recently at Southern Illinois University as professor of chemistry and chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. In 1982 he received the American Chemical Society’s Dexter Award in the History of Chemistry. John Wotiz died in 2001.