Emil L. Smith
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Emil L. Smith begins this interview by discussing his family background and childhood in New York City. During high school, he learned to play the saxophone and later earned money for college by playing concerts on weekends and holidays. At Columbia University he studied biology under Selig Hecht. In 1938, he received a Guggenheim fellowship to Cambridge University where he worked in David Keilin's laboratory. The outbreak of World War II in Europe forced Smith to return to the US where he worked at Yale, the Rockefeller Institute, and later, E. R. Squibb & Sons. Smith accepted a position at the University of Utah and was a faculty member in both the departments of biochemistry and medicine. He was later Chairman of Biological Chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine. Smith concludes the first interview by describing his activities after retirement.
In the second interview, Smith describes his research interests, which have included work with peptidases, immunoglobulins, cytochromes, subtilisin, histones, and glutamate dehydrogenases. Smith discusses his involvement with the International Union of Biochemists and American Chemical Society. He concludes this interview with a recollection of his meeting with Chou En-lai concerning scientific exchange between the United States and China.
University of Cambridge
Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research
University of Utah
University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine
E. R. Squibb & Sons
University of California, Los Angeles
Distinguished Service Alumni Award, Columbia Universty
Member, National Academy of Sciences
Utah Award, American Chemical Society
Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Member, American Philosophical Society
Foreign Member, Academy of Sciences, USSR
Fellow, UCLA School of Medicine
Stein-Moore Award, The Protein Society
Table of Contents
Parents emigrate from Russia, meet in New York and marry. Father opens tailor shops. Early education. Interest in radio. Learns to play saxophone.
Biology and chemistry classes. Accepts assistantship in biology. Selig Hecht. Doctoral thesis. Presents paper in Leningrad and tour Europe with wife. Collaboration with Simon Shlaer on Warburg's experiments. Begins work on chlorophyll-protein complex.
History of Molteno Institute and parasitology. David Keilin. World War II. Returns to Columbia to work with Pickels.
Colleagues. US entry into World War II. Responsibilities and assignments.
Assists with penicillin research. Frequently asked to solve industry-related problems. Tillman Gerlough.
University receives appropriation for muscular dystrophy research. Douglas Brown. Progress in biochemistry and protein chemistry. Serves on first NIH committee on training grants. Makes rounds with medical students. Relationship between biochemistry and medicine.
Authors several textbooks. Serves on University of Utah committees. Children. Principles of Biochemistry.
Work on the role of metal ions in hydrolytic enzyme reactions. Work on side chain reactions. Colleagues. Financial support. Changes in experimental methods in biochemistry. Role of protein in genetics. Nobel Prize politics.
Work on purification of cow milk antibodies. Immunological experiments during World War II. Decline of interest in intermediary metabolism. Laboratory staff and set-up. Colleagues. Principles of Biochemistry.
Develops interest in Keilin's laboratory. Collaboration with Emmanuel Margoliash. Determines sequence of cytochrome c. Origin of interest in evolution.
Collaboration with Hiroshi Matsubara on cytochrome c leads to new area of study. Importance of subtilisin to the manufacture of synthetic enzymes.
Influence of James Bonner. Colleagues.
Squibb—general biochemistry. Proctor & Gamble—subtilisin. Commercial preparations. History of Japanese fermentation industry.
Reasons for beginning work. Chicken enzyme. Neurospora enzyme. Colleagues and students.
International Union of Biochemists. Biochemistry section of ACS. Plans international congress. Meets Chou En-lai to discuss scientific exchange between the US and China. Children.
About the Interviewer
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.