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Norman Hackerman

Norman Hackerman

CHF Collections, Photograph by Douglas A. Lockard

  • Born: March 2, 1912, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Died: June 16, 2007, Temple, Texas
  • View the Front Matter and Index of this interview

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0083A
Interview Date: October 23, 1990
Location: The Robert A. Welch Foundation, Houston, Texas
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 37
Minutes: 150

  Abstract of Interview

Norman Hackerman begins the interview by describing his childhood and the public education system in Baltimore, Maryland, noting the rigorous course work and individual attention students received at City College High School. He then recounts his seven years at Johns Hopkins University, where he received both his bachelor's and Ph.D. degrees and developed interests in philosophy and psychology as well as in physical chemistry. He recalls the different labs in which he worked before his commitment to work in Patrick's lab on silica gel studies. Hackerman remarks upon the difficulties the university encountered due to the Depression, and its effects upon laboratory equipment and research. He next describes his experiences teaching at Loyola College and consulting for the Colloid Corporation, his job with the Coast Guard at the Federal Lighthouse Service, his years at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and his work on the Manhattan District Project. The final portion of the interview briefly summarizes his early teaching background at the University of Texas, his consulting work for the Lone Star Gas Company, and his creation of the Corrosion Research Laboratory (now the Balcones Research Center).


1932 A.B., Chemistry, Johns Hopkins University
1935 Ph.D., Chemistry, Johns Hopkins University

  Professional Experience

Loyola College

1935 - 1939 Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Colloid Corporation

1936 - 1940 Research Chemist

United States Coast Guard

1939 - 1941 Assistant Chemist

Virginia Polytechnic Institute

1941 - 1943 Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Kellex Corporation

1944 - 1945 Research Chemist

University of Texas at Austin

1945 - 1946 Assistant Professor of Chemistry

University of Texas at Austin

1946 - 1950 Associate Professor of Chemistry

University of Texas at Austin

1948 - 1961 Director, Corrosion Research Laboratory

University of Texas at Austin

1950 - 1970 Professor of Chemistry

University of Texas at Austin

1952 - 1961 Chairman, Chemistry Department

University of Texas at Austin

1960 - 1961 Dean of Research and Sponsored Programs

University of Texas at Austin

1961 - 1963 Vice President and Provost

University of Texas at Austin

1963 - 1967 Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

University of Texas at Austin

1967 - 1970 President

University of Texas at Austin

1985 Professor Emeritus of Chemistry

Rice University

1970 - 1985 President and Professor of Chemistry

Rice University

1985 President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemistry

The Robert A. Welch Foundation

1982 Chairman, Scientific Advisory Board


1956 Whitney Award, National Association of Corrosion Engineers
1964 Joseph L. Mattiello Award
1965 Palladium Medal, The Electrochemical Society
1965 Southwest Regional Award, American Chemical Society
1972 LL.D., St. Edwards University
1975 D.Sc., Austin College
1975 Honor Scroll, Texas Institute of Chemists
1978 D.Sc., Texas Christian University
1978 LL.D., Abilene Christian University
1978 Gold Medal, American Institute of Chemists
1981 Mirabeau B. Lamar Award, Association of Texas Colleges and Universities
1982 Distinguished Alumnus Award, Johns Hopkins University
1984 Edward Goodrich Acheson Award, The Electrochemical Society
1984 Alumni Gold Medal for Distinguished Service, Rice University
1987 Charles Lathrop Parsons Award
1987 Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1993 Vannevar Bush Award, National Science Board
1993 Doctor of Public Service, University of North Texas
1993 National Medal of Science
1999 Texas Distinguished Scientist Award, Texas Academy of Science

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family and Childhood 1

Parents stress education. Grows up in Baltimore. Attends public schools. Intense high school education encourages interest in chemistry. Attributes both self discipline and poor handwriting to elementary school.

Johns Hopkins University 6

Convenient location influences choice of school. Few scholarships available during Depression. Receives A.B. and Ph.D. in seven years. First exposure to philosophy and psychology. Very strong freshman chemistry course. Tough qualitative analysis course. Interest in physical chemistry but no formal courses. Teaching assistant. Works with Reid on sulfur chemistry, accident permanently affects sense of smell. Works in x-ray lab for a while. Considers catalyst lab work rote. Chooses to do graduate work with Patrick, measuring zeta potential of silica gel with silver-silver chloride electrode, also determining molecular composition of sulfur monochloride dissolved in various solvents. Stays an extra year assisting freshman chemistry and working in lab since jobs scarce during Depression. Interest in developing reversible oxygen electrode. High quality faculty, but reduced because of Depression and school's bankruptcy. Must scrape for and build own equipment.

Loyola College 17

Teaches physical chemistry laboratories. Also consults for the Colloid Corporation, working on emulsifiers for food products. Applies to the Department of Agriculture.

United States Coast Guard 21

Gets position in analytical laboratory of Federal Lighthouse Service on Staten Island. Marries. Becomes interested in corrosion.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute 22

Assistant professor of chemistry. Directs physical chemistry labs. Very limited research opportunities. Teaches chemistry to participants in Army Specialized Training Program.

United States Navy 23

Enlists but is assigned to Manhattan District Project materials group. Travels to labs across country, ensuring against experimental duplication, following deterioration studies of flourine on nickel, and suggesting certain experiments. Description of K-25 plant and nickel corrosion worries.

University of Texas at Austin 24

Teaches chemistry and colloid chemistry. Continued interest in corrosion and deterioration. Consults for Lone Star Gas Company. Develops interest in inhibitors and passivity. Converts magnesium plant into Corrosion Research Laboratory. Support from the Research Corporation and Office of Naval Research.

Notes 31

Index 32

  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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