Walter H. Stockmayer

Born: April 7, 1914 | Rutherford, NJ, US
Died: Sunday, May 9, 2004 | Norwich, VT, US

Walter Stockmayer first became interested in the mathematical aspects of physical chemistry as an undergraduate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A Rhodes Scholarship brought him to Oxford, where he undertook gas kinetics research. Stockmayer earned a PhD at MIT. Much of the interview disscusses Stockmayer's polymer research at MIT and later Dartmouth. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0049
No. of pages: 99
Minutes: 313

Interview Sessions

Jeffrey L. Sturchio and Peter J T Morris
25 August 1986 and 22 January 1992
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

In the first interview, Walter Stockmayer describes early influences directing him towards the chemical sciences. Stockmayer first became interested in the mathematical aspects of physical chemistry as an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A Rhodes Scholarship brought Stockmayer to Oxford University, where he undertook gas kinetics research with D. L. Chapman. Stockmayer returned to MIT for PhD research and pursued his study of statistical mechanics, which he later continued at Columbia University. He returned again to MIT in 1943 as an assistant professor of chemistry and became involved in the theory of network formation and the gelation criterion. Stockmayer increasingly directed his attention to theories of polymer solutions, light scattering and chain dynamics. The second interview begins with Stockmayer's Guggenheim Fellowship in Strasbourg, France, his first meeting with Hermann Staudinger in Freiburg, Germany, and his subsequent return to MIT. Stockmayer then moved to Dartmouth University in 1961, where he worked primarily on copolymers in dilute solution, established the journal Macromolecules, and collaborated with numerous Japanese scientists. He discusses his impression of the Gordon Conferences and the polymer community since the 1940s. Stockmayer concludes with his retirement and work as a consultant for DuPont and other companies. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1935 Massachusetts Institute of Technology SB
1937 University of Oxford BSc
1940 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1937 to 1938
Teaching Fellow in Chemistry
1938 to 1941
Instructor and Research Fellow
1943 to 1946
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
1946 to 1952
Associate Professor of Physical Chemistry
1952 to 1961
Professor of Physical Chemistry

Columbia University

1941 to 1943

Dartmouth College

1961 to 1962
Professor of Chemistry
1962 to 1967
Class of 1952 Professor
1967 to 1979
Albert W. Smith Professor
1963 to 1967
Chairman, Chemistry Department
1973 to 1976
Chairman, Chemistry Department
1979 to 1994
Professor Emeritus


Year(s) Award
1935 to 1937

Rhodes Scholar, Oxford University


Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1954 to 1955

Guggenheim Fellowship


Stas Medal, Société Chimique de Belgique


National Academy of Sciences


Bourke Lecturer, Faraday Society


College Chemistry Teacher Award, Manufacturing Chemists Association


Polymer Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society


Honorary Doctorate, Université‚Äö Louis-Pasteur, Strasbourg, France


Debye Award in Physical Chemistry, American Chemical Society


High Polymer Physics Prize, American Physical Society


Honorary Fellow, Jesus College, Oxford


Honor Scroll, Massachusetts Institute of Chemists


Humboldt Preis, Humboldt Foundation, West Germany


Distinguished Lecturer Award, Polymer Science Department, University of Massachusetts


Honorary LHD, Dartmouth College


Service Award, Division of Polymer Chemistry, American Chemical Society


National Medal of Science


Richards Medal, Northeastern Section, American Chemical Society


Polymer Chemistry Division Award, American Chemical Society

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Growing up in New Jersey. Influence of father, an organic chemist. High school interests.

Undergraduate Education

Settling in as freshman at MIT. Faculty, lecture and laboratory courses. Senior Project.

Oxford University

Rhodes scholarship. D. L. Chapman and research on catalyst poisoning. Oxford dons and colleagues. Graduate Studies PVT relations for hydrocarbon mixtures. Theoretical interests. Fellow students.

Columbia University

Joseph and Maria Mayer, mathematical treatments. Colleagues at Columbia. Flory and gelation theory.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Changes in faculty and direction of chemical research interests. Light scattering and polymer solution theories. Gordon Research Conferences. Effect of computers on polymer solution theory.

Guggenheim Fellowship

Strasbourg, France. Impression of European polymer chemistry. Final years at MIT.

Dartmouth University

Reason for move. Paper on copolymers in dilute solution. Colleagues and students. Impression of Dartmouth. NRC Army Research Advisory Committee. ACS Polymer Division Chairmanship. Founding of Macromolecules. Impression of polymer community and Gordon Conferences.

Work in the 1970s

Collaboration with Japanese scientists. Sabbatical in Freiburg. Retirement.

Consulting at DuPont

Nature of academic/industrial collaboration. Mechanics of consulting. Consulting with other companies. Relationship with Paul Flory. Family.


About the Interviewer

Jeffrey L. Sturchio

Jeffrey L. Sturchio is president and CEO of the Global Health Council. Previously he served as vice president of corporate responsibility at Merck & Co., president of the Merck Company Foundation, and chairman of the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa. Sturchio is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Applied Economics and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Healthy Next Generation of the World Economic Forum. He received an AB in history from Princeton University and a PhD in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.

Peter J T Morris

Peter J. T. Morris is currently at the Department of the History of Science and Technology of the Open University, where he is Royal Society-British Academy Research Fellow. Morris was educated at Oxford University receiving his BA, chemistry in 1978; DPhil, modern history in 1983, and he was a research fellow at the Open University from 1982 to 1984. During the period 1985–1987, Peter Morris was Assistant Director for Special Projects at the Beckman Center. He was the Royal Society–British Academy Research Fellow at the Open University, Milton Keynes, between 1987 and 1991, and Edelstein International Fellow in 1991–92. He is author of the monographs, Archives of the British Chemical Industry, 1800–1914 and Polymer Pioneers; his volume The American Synthetic Rubber Research Program was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in December 1989. Morris also co-edited Milestones in 150 Years of the Chemical Industry in 1991 and The Development of Plastics in 1994.