Harold A. Scheraga

Born: October 18, 1921 | Brooklyn, NY, US

Harold Scheraga recalls his childhood in Monticello, New York, and then in Brooklyn, where he attended Brooklyn Boys High School. Scheraga decided to concentrate on chemistry when he began attending the City College of New York. He was offered a graduate position at Duke University, where the chemistry department was chaired by Paul Gross. Along with his graduate research on the Kerr effect, Scheraga contributed to the wartime projects on the frangible bullet and on gas-phase halogenation. After a postdoctoral year at Harvard, he was appointed as an instructor in the chemistry department at Cornell, where he has spent the rest of his career, including a period as chairman. During the 1970s, he was also a visiting professor at the Weizmann Institute. Scheraga describes the development of his research activities including the hydrodynamic properties of polymer solutions, which then led to his extensive work on protein structure and function. International collaboration has always been important to Scheraga, and he details his sabbaticals at the Carlsberg laboratory and his later association with the Weizmann Institute.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0064
No. of pages: 61
Minutes: 242

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
10 February 1987

Abstract of Interview

Harold Scheraga starts this interview by recalling his childhood in Monticello, New York and then in Brooklyn, where he attended Brooklyn Boys High School. There he was attracted to Latin and mathematics. Scheraga decided to concentrate on chemistry only when he began attending the City College of New York. In the late thirties, CCNY graduates met some difficulties when trying to continue to graduate school. However, Scheraga was offered a place at Duke University, where the chemistry department was chaired by Paul Gross, himself a CCNY graduate. Along with his graduate research on the Kerr effect, Scheraga contributed to the wartime projects on the frangible bullet and on gas-phase halogenation. Influenced in part by the Cohn and Edsall book Peptides, Amino-Acids and Proteins, Scheraga consolidated his growing interest in biochemical areas by a postdoctoral year at Harvard. From there, he was appointed as an instructor in the chemistry department at Cornell, where he has spent the rest of his career, including a period (1960-1967) as chairman. During the 1970s, he was also a visiting professor at the Weizmann Institute. In the second part of his interview with Bohning, Scheraga describes the development of his research activities He first goes into the hydrodynamic properties of polymer solutions, which then led to his extensive work on protein structure and function. Scheraga also recounts his achievements as departmental chairman, with the construction of the new chemistry building and the appointment of new faculty. International collaboration has always been important to Scheraga, and he details his sabbaticals at the Carlsberg laboratory and his later association with the Weizmann Institute.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 City College of New York BS Chemistry
1942 Duke University AM Chemistry
1946 Duke University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Harvard Medical School

1946 to 1947
American Chemical Society Postdoctoral Fellow

Cornell University

1947 to 1950
Instructor of Chemistry
1950 to 1953
Assistant Professor
1953 to 1958
Associate Professor
1958 to 1965
Professor
1965 to 1988
Todd Professor of Chemistry
1960 to 1967
Chairman, Chemistry Department

Weizmann Institute of Science

1970 to 1980
Visiting Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1956 to 1957

Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright Research Scholar, Carlsberg Laboratory, Copenhagen

1957

Eli Lilly Award, American Chemical Society

1961

Honorary DSc, Duke University

1962

Welch Foundation Lecturer, University of Texas

1963

Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright Research Scholar, Weizmann Institute, Rehovoth, Israel

1966

Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences

1967

Elected Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1968

Harvey Lecturer, New York

1968 to 1969

Gallagher Lecturer, City College of New York

1970

Townsend Harris Lecturer, City College of New York

1973

Lemieux Lecturer, University of Ottawa

1974

Nichols Medal, New York Section, American Chemical Society

1976

Hill Lecturer, Duke University

1977

City College Chemistry Alumni Scientific Achievement Award Medal

1978

Kendall Award, Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry, American Chemical Society

1981

Venable Lecturer, University of North Carolina

1983

Linderstrøm-Lang Medal, Carlsberg Laboratory

1983

Kowalski Medal, International Society of Thrombosis and Haemostasis

1985

Pauling Medal, Puget Sound and Oregon Sections, American Chemical Society

1985

Honorary Life Member, New York Academy of Sciences

1989

Honorary Member, Hungarian Biophysical Society

1990

Mobil Award in Polymer Chemistry, American Chemical Society

1990

Repligen Award for Chemistry of Biological Processes, American Chemical Society

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education
1

Growing up in Monticello and Brooklyn, New York. Father as businessman. Brooklyn Boys High School, teachers and curriculum.

Undergraduate Studies
2

Decision to major in chemistry at City College. Courses at CCNY, colleagues and faculty; the political atmosphere. Search for graduate school.

Graduate Studies at Duke University
11

Research with Paul Gross and Marcus Hobbs on the Kerr effect. Interaction with Fritz London. Wartime projects; the frangible bullet; gas-phase halogenation. Graduate courses. Marriage. Developing interest in biochemistry, postdoctoral year at Harvard.

Cornell University
20

Appointment as instructor, contact with Flory and Debye. Research on macromolecular hydrodynamic properties. Protein structure; graduate students and coworkers. Sabbatical leave at the Carlsberg laboratory. Hydrogen bonding, hydrophobic interactions, helix-coil transitions. The thrombin/fibrinogen reaction. Protein folding. Chairman of chemistry department at Cornell, appointment of new faculty, new building, and the undergraduate laboratory design. Modern trends in chemistry. Nomenclature of polypeptides. Further reflections of Cornell, international collaborations.

Notes
49
Index
53

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.