Bruno H. Zimm

Born: October 31, 1920 | Woodstock, NY, US
Died: November 26, 2005 | La Jolla, CA, US

Bruno Zimm recalls growing up in Woodstock, New York. where he had a growing fascination with science. Zimm undertook both undergraduate and graduate studies at Columbia University, where he recalls faculty, curricula, and the effect of World War II on research activities. In 1944, Zimm transferred to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute to work on a wartime project on the degradation of polyvinyl chloride. Here he started his study of the theory and practice of the light scattering of polymer solutions, which he continued at the University of California, Berkeley. Later, Zimm moved to the General Electric laboratories at Schenectady, where he further developed his studies of dynamic methods for the investigation of polymer solutions. A short time as a visiting professor at Yale University rekindled his interests in biological polymers, especially DNA. At the University of California, San Diego, Zimm continued instrumental research as well as his theoretical interests. The interview closes with Zimm reflecting on the changes in polymer science over the duration of his career, and he comments on educational opportunities in this discipline.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0055
No. of pages: 51
Minutes: 116

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
9 September 1986
Anaheim, California

Abstract of Interview

Bruno Zimm recalls growing up in Woodstock, New York and the influence of his father's interests in natural science. After briefly reviewing his schooldays and his developing fascination with science, Zimm describes his undergraduate and graduate studies at Columbia. During this section of the interview, he recalls faculty and curricula and describes the effect of World War II on the research activities at Columbia. In 1944, Zimm transferred to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute to work on a wartime project on the degradation of polyvinyl chloride. Here, he also first started his study of the theory and practice of the light scattering of polymer solutions, which he continued at the University of California, Berkeley. From there and after a one year sabbatical at Harvard, Zimm moved to the General Electric laboratories at Schenectady, where he further developed his studies of dynamic methods for the investigation of polymer solutions. A short time as a visiting professor at Yale rekindled his interests in biological polymers, especially DNA. At the new University of California, San Diego, campus at La Jolla, Zimm continued instrumental research as well as his theoretical interests, which he briefly reviews. The interview closes with Zimm reflecting on the changes in polymer science over the duration of his career, and he comments on educational opportunities in this discipline.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 Columbia University AB Chemistry
1943 Columbia University MS Chemistry
1944 Columbia University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Columbia University

1941 to 1944
Teaching Assistant

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, New York

1944 to 1946
Research Assistant and Instructor

University of California, Berkeley

1946 to 1950
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
1950 to 1952
Associate Professor of Chemistry

General Electric Company

1951 to 1960
Research Associate

University of California, San Diego

1960
Professor of Chemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1957

Baekland Award, North Jersey Section, American Chemical Society

1958

Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences

1960

Bingham Medal, Society of Rheology

1963

High Polymer Physics Award, American Physical Society

1981

Chemical Sciences Award, National Academy of Sciences

1982

Kirkwood Medal, New Haven Section, American Chemical Society

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education
1

Growing up in an artistic family and a rural environment. Grade school, father's interests in natural science. High school and boarding school; development of scientific interests. Effects of the Depression.

University
7

Columbia, faculty and curricula. Graduate school, courses and teachers, effects of the war. Summer research on smoke screens. Graduate research, friendship with Doty.

Brooklyn and Berkeley
20

Wartime project at Brooklyn Polytechnic on the degradation of PVC films. Colleagues and faculty. Light scattering, experiment and theory. Move to Berkeley, expansion of light scattering work and initial interest in biological polymers. Critical point phenomena. Sabbatical year at Harvard.

General Electric
33

Atmosphere at General Electric laboratories, laboratory organization and colleagues. Research into dynamic methods for polymer solutions. Visiting professorship at Yale, work on DNA.

La Jolla
37

Appointment at the new campus at La Jolla. Setting up department and research school. Instrumental developments, dynamic viscoelasticity. Reflections on the changes in polymer science during career, on polymer science education and on textbooks.

Notes
45
Index
48

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.