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N. Bruce Hannay

  • Born: February 9, 1921, Mt. Vernon, Washington
  • Died: June 2, 1996, Bremerton, Washington

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0137
Interview Date: March 9, 1995
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 60
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

The interview begins with Dr. Hannay describing his family background and his early education in Washington state. Both his high school chemistry teacher and his older brother greatly influenced his decision to pursue chemistry and to attend Swarthmore College, where he received a B.A. in chemistry in 1942. With the advent of World War II, Hannay received a student deferment from the draft because his doctoral thesis at Princeton University—involving the measurement of dipole moments—related to the synthetic rubber program. While still at Princeton, Hugh Taylor involved him in the Manhattan Project and after receiving his Ph.D. in 1944, Hannay took a job with Bell Laboratories, where he continued his work on the Manhattan Project. Once the war ended, Hannay began research on the mechanisms of thermionic emission from oxide cathodes. The invention of the transistor in 1947 led him to focus on silicon, which was deemed more useful in semiconductor research than single crystals of germanium. This work resulted in Hannay's development of a mass spectrograph to analyze solids. Soon after, Bell Labs asked him to coordinate the silicon research. In 1954, Hannay became a research supervisor, and he discovered a preference for management. Following this inclination, he continued on at Bell Labs in various management capacities until his retirement in 1982. This interview concludes with Hannay's brief assessment of the chemical industry and its need for more research autonomy.


1942 B.A., Chemistry, Swarthmore College
1943 M.A., Physical Chemistry, Princeton University
1944 Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, Princeton University

  Professional Experience

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1942 - 1960 Research Chemist

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1960 - 1967 Chemical Director

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1967 - 1973 Executive Director, Research, Material Science and Engineering

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1973 - 1982 Vice President, Research and Patents


1978 Honorary Ph.D., Tel Aviv University
1979 Honorary D.Sc., Swarthmore College
1981 Honorary D.Sc., Polytechnic Institute of New York
1976 Acheson Medal, Electrochemical Society
1983 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Family background. High school interest in chemistry. Influence of brother.

College Education 4

Attendance at Swarthmore College. Laboratory experience. Outbreak of World War II. Graduate work at Princeton University with Charlie Smyth. Doctoral thesis on dipole moments. Teaching assistantship in physics.

Manhattan Project 17

Involvement of Hugh Taylor. Transition to Bell Laboratories. Work on gaseous diffusion. Discussion of atomic bomb.

Career at Bell Labs 22

Research freedom. Discussion of importance of silicon. Development of mass spectrograph to analyze solids. Evolution of solid state chemistry. Promotion through research management. Work with gallium arsenide.

Retirement 47

Consulting at Rohm and Haas, Eastman Kodak, Atlantic Richfield. Foreign Secretary of National Academy of Engineering.

Views on Chemical Research and Development 51

Importance of intellectual freedom in research.

Notes 54

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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