E. Bright Wilson, Jr.

Born: December 18, 1908 | Gallatin, TN, US
Died: Sunday, July 12, 1992 | Cambridge, MA, US
Photograph of E. Bright Wilson Jr.

CHF Collections, Photograph by Ray Ferguson

E. Bright Wilson, Jr. begins his oral history interview with a description of his family, early education, and his undergraduate and graduate studies at Princeton University, where he was inspired by the intellectual atmosphere and affable faculty. After reviewing the curriculum, his senior thesis on quantum mechanics, and his experience at Tuxedo Park, he recalls his years at the California Institute of Technology, where he began work with vibration and group theory. Next, he describes his work at Harvard, focusing on advances in spectroscopy, and his government research at Woods Hole and in Washington, DC Wilson concludes with a brief profile of his family and a few remarks on his publications.

Access This Interview

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

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0061
No. of pages: 60
Minutes: 186

Interview Sessions

Raymond C. Ferguson
17-18 November 1986
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Abstract of Interview

E. Bright Wilson, Jr. begins the interview with a description of his parents, childhood, and early education. He then discusses his undergraduate and graduate studies at Princeton University, where he was inspired by the intellectual atmosphere and affable faculty. After reviewing the curriculum, his senior thesis on quantum mechanics, and his experience at Tuxedo Park, he recalls his years at the California Institute of Technology, where he began work with vibration and group theory. Next, he describes his work at Harvard, focusing on advances in spectroscopy, and his government research at Woods Hole and in Washington, DC Wilson concludes with a brief profile of his family and a few remarks on his publications.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1930 Princeton University BS Chemistry
1931 Princeton University MA
1933 California Institute of Technology PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

California Institute of Technology

1933 to 1934
Research Fellow

Harvard University

1934 to 1936
Junior Fellow, Society of Fellows
1936 to 1939
Assistant Professor
1939 to 1946
Associate Professor
1946 to 1979
Professor
1947 to 1979
Theodore William Richards Professor of Chemistry
1979
Professor Emeritus

Woods Hole

1942 to 1944
Research Director, Underwater Explosives Research Laboratory

National Defense Research Committee

1944 to 1946
Chief, Division 2

US Department of Defense

1952 to 1953
Weapons System Evaluation Group

Honors

Year(s) Award
1937

Award in Pure Chemistry, American Chemical Society

1942

Honorary MA, Harvard University

1948

Medal for Merit, United States Government

1949 to 1950

Guggenheim Fellow

1962

Debye Award in Physical Chemistry, American Chemical Society

1966

Alumni Distinguished Service Award, California Institute of Technology

1966

James Flack Norris Award in Teaching of Chemistry, Northeast Section, American Chemical Society

1969

G. N. Lewis Award, California Section, American Chemical Society

1970 to 1971

Guggenheim Fellow

1972

Pauling Award, Oregon and Puget Sound Section, American Chemical Society

1973

Rumford Medal, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1975

D. honoris causa, Free University of Brussels

1976

Honorary DSc degree, Dickinson College

1976

Dr chemistry, University of Bologna

1976

National Medal of Science

1976

Antonio Feltrinelli Award, Rome, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei

1977

Monie A. Ferst Award, Sigma Xi

1978

Pittsburgh Spectroscopy Award

1978

T. W. Richards Medal, Northeast Section, American Chemical Society

1978

Robert A. Welch Award

1978

Earl A. Plyler Award, American Physical Society

1979

Honorary DSc degree, Columbia University

1979

Willard Gibbs Award

1979

Lippincott Medal

1981

Honorary DSc degree, Princeton University

1983

Honorary DSc degree, Clarkson College

1983

Honorary DSc degree, Harvard University

Table of Contents

Family and Childhood
1

Elementary school in Yonkers. High school at Riverdale and Lawrenceville schools. Interest in science begins with chemistry sets and books.

Princeton University
5

Thrilled by intellectual atmosphere. Work on New York subway line digging project. Chemistry curriculum. Research in electrochemistry. Senior thesis on quantum mechanics. Spends some time at Loomis' laboratory in Tuxedo Park. Faculty.

California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
16

Goes to work with Pauling. Social life in Pasadena. Writes book with Pauling. Interest in vibration of polyatomic ions and group theory develops. PhD thesis on ground state of lithium.

Harvard University
24

Twice receives invitation to join Society of Fellows. Works on vibration and internal rotation. Given faculty appointment. Teaches quantum mechanics, physical chemistry. Builds infrared spectrometer. F-G method. Microwave spectroscopy. Writes Introduction to Scientific Research while on sabbatical at Oxford.

Government Work
35

Woods Hole Project during World War II. First experience with explosives, vacuum tubes, electronics. Weapons Systems Evaluation group in Washington, DC during Korean War. Bureaucracy and interservice rivalry.

Family
40

Meets first wife, Emily Buckingham, while at Harvard. Eldest son, Kenneth, wins Nobel Prize. Son David active at Cornell in biochemistry. Daughter Nina in economics. Leukemia causes Emily's death. Remarriage. Daughter Ann studies monkey behavior in Amazon jungles in Peru. Son Paul studies differentiation in frog embryos at Berkeley. Son Steven is entrepreneur.

Further Work at Harvard University
46

Signal-to-noise improvement; 1/f noise. Electrical secular determinant solver. Infrared intensity measurement work. Paper with Crawford on internal rotation and vibration.

Notes
51
Index
55

About the Interviewer

Raymond C. Ferguson

Raymond C. Ferguson obtained his degrees in chemistry from Iowa State University (BS, MS) and Harvard University (PhD). He worked in research divisions of the Organic Chemicals, Elastomer Chemicals, and Central Research Departments of DuPont, principally in molecular spectroscopy, organic structure analysis, and polymer characterization. Currently he is affiliated with CONDUX, Inc., a consulting association of former DuPont professionals.