Ivan Maxwell Robinson

Born: May 26, 1920 | Lakeville, NS, CA
Died: December 22, 2017 | Wilmington, DE, US

Ivan Maxwell Robinson discusses his upbringing in Nova Scotia. He earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Acadia University, a master's degree from the University of Toronto, and his PhD from Purdue University. Robinson led a successful career at DuPont as both a research chemist and a supervisor, credited with chemical innovations like coordination polymerization and copolymers of ethylene-sulfur dioxide. Robinson later joined Indiana University as a visiting scientist, taught genealogy at the Academy of Lifelong Learning, and was awarded the Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0215
No. of pages: 35
Minutes: 158

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
24 January 2001
Wimington, Delaware

Abstract of Interview

Ivan Maxwell Robinson begins the interview with a discussion of his family life and education. He was born in the small village of Lakeville, Nova Scotia, where his father ran the general store, and his mother was a school teacher. Around sixth grade, Robinson's family moved to Kentville, Nova Scotia, where Maxwell Robinson attended junior high school and high school. After high school, Robinson earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry, with honors in 1941, from Acadia University. He obtained his master's degree in chemistry from the University of Toronto in 1942, and worked briefly for Canadian Industries Ltd. while studying. After a brief term of service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Robinson returned to college, where he earned his PhD in chemistry from Purdue University in 1949. Robinson was interviewed by numerous corporations while studying at Purdue University, and decided that DuPont was the best place to do research. Subsequently, he moved his family to Wilmington, Delaware, and joined DuPont as a bench chemist. Robinson worked initially in Frank Gresham's research group trying to make a polyimide from a monoamine. By 1952, he successfully made a high-molecular-weight polyimide from a long-chain diamine. In that same year, Robinson was made a supervisor at DuPont. Robinson's group is credited with numerous chemical innovations, such as coordination polymerization, and copolymers of ethylene-sulfur dioxide. Robinson retired from DuPont as a research chemist in 1981 and joined Indiana University as a visiting scientist. Moreover, Robinson has been teaching genealogy at the Academy of Lifelong Learning for over 10 years. In 2000, Robinson was awarded the Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement. Robinson concludes the interview with a discussion of Karl Ziegler's and Giulio Natta's work on propylene polymerization, and its relationship to his group's work at DuPont. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1940 Acadia University BSc Chemistry
1941 Acadia University BSc Chemistry
1942 University of Toronto MA Chemistry
1949 Purdue University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

1949 to 1952
Research Chemist
1952 to 1954
1954 to 1961
Section Manager
1961 to 1964
Manager, Technical Sales
1964 to 1973
Laboratory Director
1973 to 1975
Research Associate
1975 to 1981
Research Fellow

Indiana University Bloomington

Visiting Scientist


Year(s) Award

Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement

Table of Contents

Childhood and Education

Born in Lakeville, Nova Scotia. Father's general store. Moving to Kentville, Nova Scotia. Grade school and high school experiences. Undergraduate studies at Acadia University. Graduate studies at the University of Toronto. Working on the nitration of hexamethylenetetramine. Marriage to Jeannee. Work at Canadian Industries Ltd. Military service. Studying at Purdue University.

Research at DuPont

Moving to Wilmington, Delaware. Attending the World's Fair in 1939. Polyamide research in Frank Gresham's research group. The development of "Polymer E. " Frank Gresham's management style. Polyethylene research with Arthur Anderson and N. G. Merckling. Working on coordination polymerization. The dispute over the U. S. patent for polypropylene.

Associates at DuPont

Donald H. Payne. Herbert S. Eleuterio. Rudolph B. de Jong. Making the ethylene sulfur-dioxide copolymer. Investigating potentially useful by-products at various DuPont facilities. Amalgamating the chemicals business into another department in 1959. Becoming a research associate in the chemicals, dyes, and pigments department. Working with Jay K. Kochi.

The Tyvek Story

DuPont's inability to capitalize on some significant inventions. Dan Strain's reluctance to share Tyvek. Robinson's notes on periodic meetings between the DuPont's groups, involving coordination polymerization. Robinson's thoughts on the organizational structure of DuPont.


Thoughts on winning the Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement. Participating in the Academy of Lifelong Learning. Robinson's family and hobbies. Brief discussion of the book, Science and Corporate Strategy.


About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.