Rudolf Signer

Born: March 17, 1903 | Herisau, CH
Died: Saturday, December 1, 1990 | Muri bei Bern, CH

Rudolf Signer starts his oral history interview by talking about his family background in Switzerland and his study of chemistry at ETH. Graduate research on polyoxymethylenes with Staudinger introduced Signer to the young field of polymer chemistry. A Rockefeller Fellowship enabled Signer to work with Svedberg at Uppsala and with Bragg at Manchester. Signer concludes with recollections of a post-war tour of the United States and of his memories of Staudinger. 

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0056
No. of pages: 41
Minutes: 140

Interview Sessions

Tonja A. Koeppel
30 September 1986
Bern, Switzerland

Abstract of Interview

Rudolf Signer starts this interview by talking about his family background in Herisau. The Kantonschule at St. Gallen emphasized mathematics and the sciences, and there, Signer's youthful interests in astronomy and philosophy were reinforced. Study of chemistry at ETH followed, and Signer recalls some of his professors there. Graduate research on polyoxymethylenes with Staudinger introduced Signer to the young field of polymer chemistry, and he remembers the controversy about Staudinger's macromolecular hypothesis. Moving to Freiburg with Staudinger, Signer set up equipment to measure streaming birefringence, which proved a powerful technique of the solution characterization of polymers. A Rockefeller Fellowship enabled Signer to work with Svedberg at Uppsala and to apply ultracentrifugal sedimentation to synthetic polymers in organic solvents. The rest of that postdoctoral year was spent at Manchester with Bragg, where Rudolf Signer used X-rays for structural investigations. Signer also expounds on his decision to leave Freiburg and on his acceptance of a chair at the University of Berne. The interview includes mention of much research made at Berne, including the isolation and characterization of nucleic acids, water-protein interactions, molecular separation techniques and the thermodynamics of polymer solutions. Signer concludes with recollections of a post-war tour of the United States and of his memories of Staudinger. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1928 Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule) PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Freiburg

1926 to 1935
Teaching Assistant and Research Fellow

University of Bern

1935 to 1937
Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry
1937 to 1972
Professor of Organic Chemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1933

Rockefeller Fellowship, Uppsala and Manchester

1948

Rockefeller Special Fellowship, USA

1949

Lavoisier Medal, La Société Chimique de France

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education
1

Zürich, professors at ETH. Photography as a hobby. Graduate work with Staudinger and transfer with him to Freiburg. Research on polyoxymethylenes. Recollections of Staudinger and the macromolecular controversy. Marriage. Start of flow birefringence studies.

University Studies
5

Uppsala and research with Svedberg on sedimentation of macromolecules. X-ray study of hetero poly-acids with Bragg in Manchester.

Rockefeller Fellowship
13

Decision to return to Switzerland. Teaching at Bern, effect of the war. Nucleic acid isolation and characterization. Separation by diffusion. Water sorption on proteins; casein fibers. Electron microscopy. Counter-current distribution. Thermodynamics of polymer-solvent interactions.

University of Bern
18

Hobby of gardening. Reflections on post-war Rockefeller Fellowship to tour the United States. Further recollections of Staudinger.

Retirement
28
Notes
35
Index
38

About the Interviewer

Tonja A. Koeppel

Tonja A. Koeppel received a master’s degree in chemistry from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 1944. Since then she has written about chemistry, done research, and taught college chemistry. Dr. Koeppel is also a historian of chemistry. In 1973 she earned a PhD degree in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania. She is especially interested in the development of organic chemistry in the 19th and early 20th centuries.