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Fred Basolo

  • Born: February 11, 1920, Coello, Illinois
  • Died: February 27, 2007, Skokie, Illinois

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0091
Interview Date: March 1, 1991
Location: Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 60
Minutes: 174

  Abstract of Interview

Fred Basolo begins this interview by discussing his childhood in Coello, Illinois, and his elementary and high school education. He attended Southern Illinois University where he studied to be a chemistry teacher but his instructors encouraged him to attend graduate school in chemistry. At University of Illinois, he studied inorganic chemistry with John Bailar. After receiving his Ph.D., he worked at Rohm and Haas in Philadelphia for three years. He decided to return to academia and accepted a positions as professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University. His research interests have included kinetics and mechanisms, and metal carbonyls. Basolo describes the connections he made with Italian scientists and his American Chemical Society presidency and concludes by offering his opinion of how general and inorganic chemistry courses should be taught.


1940 B. Ed. Southern Illinois University
1942 M.S., Inorganic Chemistry, University of Illinois
1943 Ph.D., Inorganic Chemistry (mentor: John C. Bailar, Jr.), University of Illinois

  Professional Experience

Rohm and Haas Company

1943 - 1946 Research Chemist

Northwestern University

1946 - 1948

Instructor, Chemistry Department

Northwestern University

1948 - 1953

Assistant Professor

Northwestern University

1953 - 1959

Associate Professor

Northwestern University

1959 - 1980


Northwestern University

1969 - 1972

Chairman of the Chemistry Department

Northwestern University

1980 - 1990

Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor

Northwestern University


Emeritus Morrison Professor


1954 - 1955 Guggenheim Fellow, University of Copenhagen
1961 - 1962 Senior NSF Fellow, University of Rome
1964 Award for Research in Inorganic Chemistry, American Chemical Society (ACS)
1969 NATO Distinguished Professor, Technische Universität München
1971 North Regional Section Citation of Excellence, ACS
1972 John C. Bailar, Jr. Medal, University of Illinois
1974 Alumni Achievement Award, Southern Illinois University
1975 Award for Distinguished Service in Inorganic Chemistry, ACS
1976 Francis Patrick Dwyer Medal, University of New South Wales, Australia
1977 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1977 Honorary Member, Phi Lambda Upsilon
1979 Fellow, Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science
1979 Member, National Academy of Sciences
1981 Honorary Member, Italian Chemical Society
1981 James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Teaching of Chemistry, Northeastern Section, ACS
1983 President, ACS
1983 Oesper Memorial Award, ACS, Cincinnati Section
1983 Corresponding Member, Chemical Society of Peru
1983 Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1984 D.Sc. (honorary), Southern Illinois University
1985 Honorary Professor, Lanzhou University, China
1987 Foreign Member, National Academy of Science, Italy
1988 Laurea honoris causa, University of Turin
1988 IX Century Medal, Bologna University
1988 Award for Research in Inorganic Chemistry, Italian Chemical Society
1988 Honorary Professor, Zhongshan University, China
1990 Harry and Carol Mosher Award, ACS, Santa Clara Valley
1991 Padova University Medal
1991 Distincion Bicentenaria, University of Los Andes in Merida
1991 Chinese Chemical Society Medal
1992 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
1992 Sigma Xi Monie A. Ferst Award
1992 Humboldt Senior U.S. Scientist Award
1993 Gold Medal Award, American Institute of Chemists
1996 First Lecturer and Medalist of the Royal Society of Chemistry Joseph Chatt Award
1996 Josiah Williard Gibbs Medal
1996 Member, Chemistry Department Hall of Fame, Southern Illinois University
1997 Laurea honoris causa, University of Palermo, Sacconi Memorial Lecture
2000 Obelisk Leadership Award, Southern Illinois University
2001 Joseph Priestly Medal

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family Background 1

Born in coal mining town, Coello, Illinois. Parents become U.S. citizens. Brother and sister. Affect of the Depression on family.

Early Education 2

Elementary school. Influence of high school teacher on decision to go to college. Public Works Administration youth program provides college tuition. High school science and laboratory experiments.

Southern Illinois University 3

Studies to be a high school teacher. Influence of professors. Chemistry courses, textbooks, and laboratory work. Fellow students.

University of Illinois 7

Passes German and French exams. Chemistry instructors. Studies inorganic chemistry with John Bailar. Laboratory instruments. Early research and publications.

Rohm and Haas 13

Impression of Philadelphia. Works on mica project and synthesis of zirconium compounds. Decides to return to academia.

Northwestern University 16

Small number of graduate students in chemistry department. Colleagues. Gets first graduate student. Works on solution kinetics and mechanisms. Collaboration with Ralph Pearson. Disagreement with Christopher Ingold.

Guggenheim Fellowship in Copenhagen 23

Introduced to crystal field theory. Attends international conference on coordination chemistry and meets Walter Hieber. Begins work with metal carbonyls. Collaborates with Arthur Adamson.

Return to Northwestern 29

Inorganic chemistry graduate students. Makes connections with Italian scientists. Helps Luigi Sacconi publish papers in English journals. Reasons for not getting involved with photochemistry. Interaction among unversity departments. Return to carbonyl work.

American Chemical Society Presidency 41

Proposes term limits for committee appointees. Insists on one national meeting. Wants to reduce number of committees. Academic/industrial interface. Represents ACS at Priestley anniversary.

Other Activities 48

Involvement with Beckman Center funding. Opinion on how general and inorganic chemistry should be taught.

Notes 53

Index 56

  About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning is professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he was 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 has 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 the foundation’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. He is currently a visiting research scientist and CESAR Fellow at Lehigh University. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.

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