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Fred Basolo

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

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0264
Interview Date: September 27, 2002
Location: Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
Interviewers: Arnold Thackray and Arthur Daemmrich
No. of pages: 38
Minutes: 139
Sponsor: Gordon Research Conferences
Gordon Research Conferences

  Abstract of Interview

Fred Basolo begins the interview discussing his arrival at Northwestern University as an inorganic chemist in 1946. At that time, organic chemistry dominated the field of chemistry, and inorganic chemistry was seen as insignificant. Over the next few years, inorganic chemistry developed into a substantial component of chemistry. Basolo played a major role in that expansion—what he refers to as “the birth of inorganic chemistry.” The formation of the Inorganic Chemistry Gordon Research Conference, which Basolo helped organize, was a key factor in inorganic chemistry’s rising significance. Although there was no funding for the first conference and attendees had to pay their own travel and registration expenses, enough chemists participated to make the Inorganic GRC successful, and it developed into an annual event. Basolo describes the Inorganic GRC, as well as his heavy involvement in it, for which the conference presented him an award for his fifty years of service. Basolo also talks about his graduate studies under John C. Bailar, Jr., a coordination chemist for whom Basolo had a great deal of respect, and who instigated the first Inorganic Chemistry GRC. Following in Bailar’s footsteps, Basolo specialized in coordination chemistry, and discovered the coboglobin site. Basolo also discusses his role in GRC governance, first being nominated to council, then to the board of trustees, and eventually becoming the board chairman. Basolo had concerns that the rapid growth of the organization and the Inorganic Conference could cause applicants to be turned away. Basolo ends his interview with his thoughts about the future of chemistry and GRC.


1940 B.Ed. Southern Illinois University
1942 M.S., Inorganic Chemistry, University of Illinois
1943 Ph.D., Inorganic Chemistry, University of Illinois

  Professional Experience

Rohm and Haas Company

1943 - 1946 Research Chemist

Northwestern University

1946 - 1948 Instructor

Northwestern University

1948 - 1953 Assistant Professor

Northwestern University

1953 - 1959 Associate Professor

Northwestern University

1959 - 1980 Professor

Northwestern University

1969 - 1972 Chairman of the Department of Chemistry

Northwestern University

1980 - 1990 Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor

Northwestern University

1990 - Present 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

Early Years in Inorganic Chemistry 1

First job at Rohm and Haas. The birth of American inorganic chemistry. Teaching at Northwestern University. Persuading Ralph G. Pearson to join the Northwestern faculty.

Development of the Inorganic Chemistry Gordon Research Conference (GRC) 3

First Inorganic Chemistry Conference. Economics of attendance. John C. Bailar as founder. Helping to organize the first conference. Willis Conrad Fernelius as first chair. Development of conference. Conference format. Keeping attendance numbers low. Industry representation and topics at early conferences. Coordination chemistry as a staple topic. German inorganic chemistry. Lack of funding for attendance by graduate students and faculty. Networking at conferences. Chairing the conference.

Early Involvement with the GRC Organization 12

Concerns about non-chemists attending Gordon Conferences. Expansion of GRC internationally and into other disciplines. Funding for the Inorganic Chemistry Conference from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Interactions with Alexander M. Cruickshank. Tuesday lunch tradition with inorganic chemists on the GRC board.

Dynamics of the Inorganic Chemistry Conferences 16

Conference chair election process. Funding for attendance. Recreation at conferences. Attendance by families of conferees. Conference locations.

Roles in GRC Governance and Management 21

Nomination to council. Election to board of trustees, selection and scheduling committee, and board chair. Development of subfields of inorganic chemistry. Relationship with American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Future of GRC and Inorganic Chemistry 23

Large size of GRC. Central role of chemistry in science. Need for recognition of chemistry. Growth of chemistry and molecular biology.

Notes 25

Index 26

  About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

Arthur Daemmrich

Arthur Daemmrich is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School and a senior research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. His research examines science, medicine, and the state, with a focus on advancing theories of risk and regulation through empirical research on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical sectors. At HBS he also plays an active role in an interdisciplinary Healthcare Initiative, advancing scholarship and developing applied lessons for the business of creating and delivering health services and health-related technologies. Daemmrich was previously the director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He earned a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University in 2002 and has held fellowships at the Social Science Research Council/Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has published widely on pharmaceutical and chemical regulation, biotechnology business and policy, innovation, and history of science.

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