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Keith J. Laidler

  • Born: January 3, 1916, Liverpool, United Kingdom
  • Died: August 26, 2003

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0002
Interview Dates: October 13, 1983 and October 14, 1983 and October 18, 1983
Location: University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Interviewer: M. Christine King
No. of pages: 48

  Abstract of Interview

In this interview, K. J. Laidler recalls his childhood, early education, and undergraduate days at Oxford University. He then speaks about his colleagues and teachers at Princeton University where he did graduate work. A consideration of the inception and development of the transition-state theory follows. Laidler then appraises the research that he did both with Steacie in Canada an independently at the Catholic University of America. He also comments upon the nitric oxide research of Hinshelwood and on his own recent work at the University of Ottawa. Finally, Laidler recollects the personal characteristics of several eminent chemists, among them Cyril Hinshelwood, Henry Eyring, and Hugh Stott Taylor.


1937 B.A., Chemistry, University of Oxford
1940 Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, Princeton University
1955 M.A., Physical Chemistry, University of Oxford
1956 D.Sc., Physical Chemistry, University of Oxford

  Professional Experience

National Research Council, Canada

1940 - 1942 Research Chemist

Canadian Armaments Research and Development Establishment

1942 - 1944 Science Officer

Canadian Armaments Research and Development Establishment

1944 - 1946 Chief Science Officer and Superintendent of Physics and Math Wing

Catholic University of America

1946 - 1955 Assistant to Associate Professor, Chemistry Department

University of Ottawa

1955 - 1981 Professor, Department of Chemistry

University of Ottawa

1961 - 1966 Chairman, Department of Chemistry

University of Ottawa

1962 - 1966 Vice-Dean, Faculty of Pure and Applied Science, Department of Chemistry

Sussex University

1966 - 1967 Commonwealth Visiting Professor

Sussex University

1981 - 2003 Emeritus Professor of Chemistry


1977 Queen's Jubilee Medal

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Early interests in chemistry and physics. Family and school emphasis on humanities. Sidgwick's Electronic Theory of Valency. Training in languages. The influence of Dickinson and Parton.

Student Life and Undergraduate Study at Oxford University 5

First impressions of Oxford and Hinshelwood. Oxonian traditions. Courses, labs, and lectures. Early work on reactions in solution. Hinshelwood as tutor and linguist. Commonwealth Fellowship.

Henry Eyring 13

Personality and approach to research. Contrast to Hinshelwood and Oxford.

Colleagues and Teachers at Princeton University 15

Eyring as a lecturer. Courses in quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, organic and inorganic chemistry. Kinetics with Hugh Taylor. Early transition-state work by Eyring and Hirschfelder. The Theory of Rate Processes.

Transition-State Theory 22

Reception of transition-state theory. Polanyi's and Evans' paper. Opposition to the theory by Lindemann and others. World War II.

Research during World War II 25

Work on free radical solutions with Steacie at the National Research Council of Canada. Ballistics and propellants at the Inspection Board of the U.K. and Canada.

The Catholic University of America and Francis O. Rice 26

Teaching biochemistry. Walter Moore and Hugh Hulburt. Conflicts with F. O. Rice. Rice's and Herzfeld's work on organic decompositions.

Nitric Oxide Research 29

Early work by Hinshelwood and Staveley. Rice's free radical interpretation. Hinshelwood's molecular mechanisms. Contributions by Laidler and Wojciechowski.

Research at the University of Ottawa 33

Gas phase kinetics, organic decompositions, and enzyme-catalyzed reactions. Formations of intermediates. Immobilization of enzymes. Chemical Kinetics.

Cyril Hinshelwood's Persona 35

Hinshelwood's linguistic and literary interests. The effects of World War II. Painting and cats.

The Effect of the Mormon Religion upon Henry Eyring 37

A friendly personality. Contrast of Mormonism to Princeton life. Exposure to the theatre. Problems with writing. Eyring's nationalism.

Other Kineticists 41

Hugh Taylor as chairman of the Princeton chemistry department. E. J. Bowen, D. L. Chapman, and J. W. Linnett. Noyes' visits to the University of Ottawa.

An Unusual Hobby: Acting 43

Amateur theatre in Ottawa. Lecturing as acting. Acting as compliment to an academic life.

  About the Interviewers

M. Christine King

Mary Christine King was born in China and educated in Ireland. She obtained a B.Sc. degree in chemistry from the University of London in 1968, which was followed by an M.Sc. in polymer and fiber science (1970) and a Ph.D. for a thesis on the hydrodynamic properties of paraffins in solution (1973), both from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. After working with Joseph Needham at Cambridge, she received a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science from the Open University (1980) and thereafter worked at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the University of Ottawa, where she carried out research with Dr. Keith Laidler. King died in an automobile accident in late 1987; her recent biography E. W. R. Steacie and Science in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 1989) was published posthumously.

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