Michael Szwarc

Born: June 9, 1909 | Bedzin, PL
Died: Thursday, August 3, 2000 | San Diego
Photograph of Michael Szwarc

Photograph of Michael Szwarc, CHF Collections, Photograph by Jim Bohning.

Michael Szwarc begins with his early interest in science while growing up in Poland, leading to his studies at the Warsaw Polytechnic Institute. Szwarc next describes his experiences from 1935, when he emigrated to Israel, until his move to the University of Manchester in 1945 where he worked with Michael Polanyi on polymerization. Subsequently, he held a professorship at SUNY, Syracuse.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0054
No. of pages: 41
Minutes: 186

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
11 September 1986
Solana Beach, California

Abstract of Interview

In this interview, Michael Szwarc begins with his early interest in science while growing up in Poland, leading to his studies at the Warsaw Polytechnic Institute. Szwarc next describes his experiences from 1935, when he emigrated to Israel, until his move to the University of Manchester in 1945. At Manchester, he worked in Michael Polanyi's physical chemistry group and first embarked on his studies on polymerization. A 1950s visit to the USA, involving many lecture trips, is described, as are the circumstances leading to his acceptance of a professorship at SUNY, Syracuse. Research on the methyl affinities of aromatic compounds led Szwarc to work with the naphthalene radical anion and, hence, to the development of the living polymers. The interview ends with Szwarc reviewing his later studies and his reflections on co-workers and associates.

Audio recording of this interview is not available.  

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1932 Warsaw University of Technology Chemical Engineering
1942 Hebrew University of Jerusalem PhD Organic Chemistry
1947 University of Manchester PhD Physical Chemistry
1949 University of Manchester DSc

Professional Experience

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

1934 to 1942
Assistant

University of Manchester

1947 to 1952
Lecturer in Chemistry

State University College of Forestry at Syracuse University

1952 to 1956
Professor of Physical and Polymer Chemistry
1956 to 1964
Research Professor
1964 to 1972
Distinguished Professor
1967 to 1972
Director, Polymer Research Center

State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

1972 to 1980
Distinguished Professor
1972 to 1980
Director, Polymer Research Center
1980 to 1988
Emeritus Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1963 to 1964

Royal Society Visiting Professor, University of Liverpool

1966

Fellow of the Royal Society

1969 to 1970

Nobel Guest Professor, Uppsala University

1969

Award in Polymer Chemistry, American Chemical Society

1972

International Award, Plastics Science and Engineering

1972

Baker Lecturer, Cornell University

1974

Visiting Professor, Louvain University, Belgium

1974

Hononrary DSc, University of Louvain

1975

Honorary DSc, University of Uppsala

1976

Lemieux Lecturer, University of Ottawa

1978

Honorary DSc, Louis Pasteur University, Strasbourg, France

1978 to 1979

Visiting Professor, University of California, San Diego

1990

Polymer Division Award, American Chemical Society

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education
1

Gymnasium in Poland, Infeld amongst teachers, early interest in science. Recent history of Poland. High school facilities, advanced lectures in physics and mathematics.

Warsaw Polytechnic
6

Course contents. Swietoslawski and calorimetry.

Industrial Employment
9

Barium sulfate, nucleation.

Emigration to Israel
11

Teaching at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Absorption of scientific words into Hebrew. Faculty at the University, Ph.D. in organic chemistry. Wartime production of phosphoric acid.

University of Manchester
16

Michael Polanyi. Bond dissociation energies, colleagues at Manchester. Poly-p-xylylene. Lecture tour of United States.

Syracuse
23

Studies of methyl affinities. Living polymers. Transport through polymer films. Visiting professor at Liverpool. Uppsala and Claesson, flash photolysis.

Notes
36
Index
38

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.