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Lederman, Peter B.

  • Born: November 16, 1931, Weimar, Germany

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0690
Interview Date: September 1, 2011
Location: The Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interviewers: David J. Caruso, Sarah L. Hunter-Lascoskie and Jody A. Roberts
No. of pages: 126
Minutes: 297

  Abstract of Interview

Peter B. Lederman, an only child, was born in Weimar, Germany.  His father was an accountant who spent a week in a concentration camp but was recalled in order to help the state collect taxes.  When Peter was seven the family left for the United States, spending about six months in England on the way.  They settled in New York City; eventually Lederman chose to attend the Forest Hills High School, where he was inspired in science by his chemistry and biology teacher, Paul Brandwein.  Advised by Eric Schatzki, a chief engineer at Republic Aviation, he abandoned his desire to study aeronautical engineering and instead chose as his major chemical engineering when he entered the University of Michigan.  Brymer Williams became Lederman’s advisor and mentor, and Williams (now deceased), Lederman, and Stuart Churchill have remained friends.  Despite a rigorous curriculum with few electives, Lederman found time to teach a qualitative analysis lab during his last two years at Michigan, and during his summers he worked on corrosion studies at BOMARC missile project.

Lederman then accepted a job as processing engineer in lube oils at Shell Oil in Illinois, but he left there to go back to Michigan for a master’s degree.  He was drafted into the Army Petroleum School, where he taught petroleum technology.  After that he became a teaching fellow in the graduate program at Michigan, with Brymer Williams as advisor.  His prelim for a PhD, on the liquefaction of natural gas, gave him a presentation that then became a publication.  During graduate school he had thirteen publications.  He also married a woman from Forest Hills High School; became a fraternity advisor and part of a family-oriented graduate student community; and started a family.  His PhD thesis involved using zeolites to separate gases at very low temperatures.  

Next Lederman began work on a pilot unit in ethylene-propylene copolymers for Esso Research Laboratories, later moving to Esso’s New Jersey laboratories as a process engineer.  About to be promoted, he decided to accept an associate professorship at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute (Poly).  While teaching there he worked on  a solid waste management program for the garbage committee of New Providence, New Jersey.  This interest eventually branched into a general fascination with environmental issues; while at Poly he obtained a National Science Foundation grant to help disadvantaged students study pollution.  Believing that America should have a strong technological foundation, Lederman also became more active in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).

Lederman left Poly for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he attempted to combine fragmented areas of pollution.  He worked as the director of the Industrial Waste Treatment Research Laboratory until it was moved to Ohio, at which time Lederman spent a year as head of the program in Washington, D.C., before returning to New Jersey.  During this time he wrote for popular technical journals, attempting to inform the public about environmental technology and policy.  He asserts that pollution control, which evolved from waste management, began with industry: they had an economic incentive to minimize costly waste, hence began to recycle.  

Lederman spent his next four years at Research-Cottrell, developing electrostatic precipitators, negotiating contracts in Japan, and managing crises.  Unfortunately, power companies were finding permitting too onerous and were not expanding.  Superfund had just been established by statute, and hazardous materials had become a hot issue, so Lederman went to Roy F. Weston, Inc., to consult on hazardous materials.  There he was responsible for government contracts, especially technical assistance for emergency response consulting, and strategic policy regarding hazardous materials.  

Wanting to finish his career in academia, Lederman went to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in the Center for Environmental Engineering and Sciences, in the Office of Intellectual Property, and as Research Professor of Chemical Engineering and Environmental Policy.  There, in addition to teaching, he was responsible for all aspects of grants; he managed patents and licenses; he negotiated contracts; and he informally mentored students and junior faculty.  He also continued to consult pro bono for the National Research Council.  His hazardous materials experience, process engineering, and environmental knowledge in general provided expertise for nuclear and chemical weapons disposal work.  After eight years Lederman retired, but he is still on the Science Advisory Board of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.  He is still active in AIChE, where he has chaired and served on a number of committees including the Government Relations Committee, working to bring technology into political discussions, and he maintains his own consulting firm.

To conclude his interview, Lederman discusses the changes in AIChE and the expansion of chemical engineering into many more areas of endeavor.  He maintains that chemical engineering was good preparation for environmental management and engineering, for crisis management, for developing methods of thought that solve problems.  He agrees that though he was not formally trained in environmental science, he is most noted and given awards for his environmental work.  He feels that cost-benefit analysis is crucial, but life-cycle has not been considered; that we are not economically prepared for life-cycle analysis and perhaps never will be.  He is of the opinion that consistency of regulation and enforcement is necessary; that nuclear waste is more dangerous than hazardous materials.  His maxim is do the least harm but do not do nothing in order to avoid harm.

  Education

1953 B.S.E., Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
1957 M.S.E., Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
1961 Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

  Professional Experience

Shell Oil Company, Wood River, Illinois

1953

Junior Technologist

U.S. Army Petroleum School, Fort Lee, Virginia

1953 - 1955

Instructor

General Foods

1956

Technologist

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan

1955 - 1960

Instructor, Department of Chemical Engineering

Esso Research Laboratories, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

1961 - 1963

Chemical Engineer

Esso Research and Engineering Company, Florham Park, New Jersey

1963 - 1966

Senior Process Engineer

Columbia University, New York City, New York

1965 - 1966

Lecturer

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, Brooklyn, New York

1966 - 1972

Associate Professor and Administrative Officer of Chemical Engineering

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

1972 - 1975

Director, Industrial Waste Treatment Research Laboratory, Edison, New Jersey

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

1976

Director, Industrial and Extractive Process Division,  Office of Research & Development, Washington, D.C.

Research-Cottrell, Bound Brook, New Jersey

1976 - 1978

Manager, Technical Development

Research-Cottrell, Bound Brook, New Jersey

1978 - 1980

Vice President and General Manager, Cottrell Environmental Sciences

Roy F. Weston, Inc., West Chester, Pennsylvania and Edison, New Jersey

1980 - 1993

Vice President, Hazardous/Toxic Substance Management and Vice President/Division General Manager

New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, New Jersey

1993 - 2000

Executive Director, Center for Environmental Engineering and Sciences, Executive Director, Office of Intellectual Property and Research Professor of Chemical Engineering and Environmental Policy

Peter Lederman & Associates

2000 - present

Consultant

  Honors

1976

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Silver Medal for Superior Service

1987

Lawrence K. Cecil Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for Contributions to the Environment through Chemical Engineering

1992

Stanley E. Kappe Award, American Academy of Environmental Engineers

1995

Gary Leach Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers as Chair of the Superfund Task Force

1995

American Institute of Chemical Engineers Environmental Division Service Award

1996

University of Michigan Engineering Alumni Society, Chemical Engineering Award of Merit

2009

National Associate of the National Academies

2009

American Institute of Chemical Engineers, F.J. & Dorothy Van Antwerpen Award for Service

2010

University of Michigan College of Engineering, Distinguished Alumni Service Medal

2011

American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Service to Society Award

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Years 1

Born in Weimar, Germany.  Only child.  Father expelled from job in Nazi Germany, sent to concentration camp, but back to help collect taxes after one week in camp.  Moved to England for six months, on way to United States.   Sponsored by Kurt Friedrichs, head of Courant Institute.  Father certified public accountant, mother nurse in U.S.  Did not play team sports.  Liked to read.

High School Years 14

Chose to attend Forest Hills High School.  Good at math.  Liked science. Paul Brandwein, inspiring biology and chemistry teacher.  Head of audio-visual squad. Relearned German..  Built crystal radio for honorable mention in Westinghouse Talent Search.  Classes.  Chess.  Parental expectations.  Interested in aeronautical engineering, but advised by Eric Schatzki not to study it; chose chemical engineering instead.  

College Years 21

Advised by Friedrichs to consider University of Michigan; also needed to start in January.  Initial impressions of Ann Arbor and the University.  First roommate. Classroom experiences.  Gave one of his libraries to Nigeria.  Brymer Williams undergrad advisor.  Rigorous curriculum with few electives.  Stuart Churchill. Structure of classes and labs.  Taught qualitative analysis during junior and senior years.

First Job and Graduate School Years 33

Accepted position with Shell Oil in Illinois.  Hugh Guthrie, president of American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), his boss.  Began as process engineer in lube oils department but went back to Michigan for a master’s degree.  Drafted into U.S. Army and assigned to the  Army Petroleum School.  Six months at Caven Point, New Jersey; then back to Fort Lee, Virginia, where he taught petroleum technology.  Back to Michigan as teaching fellow in chemical engineering and student in graduate program; Williams his friend and mentor. No difficulties being both student and faculty member.  Publication on liquefaction of natural gas; gave presentation from preliminary exam to National Petroleum Supply Association..  Thirteen publications.  Settled for third idea for PhD dissertation: zeolites.  Married woman from Forest Hills High School. Family-oriented community.  Football games, concerts.  Became fraternity advisor.  Looking toward industry.  Developed interest in computers; published in journals.  Ford Foundation grant.  Developed program for liquid-liquid extraction.  Claims to have been “in the right place at the right time.”  

Leaving the Midwest 56

Finished PhD, began looking for job.  Jobs scarce.  Shell did not rehire those who had left.  Began work on pilot unit in ethylene-propylene copolymers  with Esso Research Laboratories in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  First child born just before he left Michigan.  Wife a homemaker at the time .  Balancing work and home lives.  Analysis by hand as less technology.  Kjeldahl method.  Extrusion problems. After three years moved to New Jersey to be process engineer in Process Engineering Division of  Esso Research and Engineering Company.  Worked on hydrocracking; then polypropylene.  Promoted to senior process engineer but quit to become associate professor at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute (Poly). Again “in the right place at the right time,” he developed solid waste program while on garbage committee for New Providence, New Jersey.  Solid waste interest eventually branched into general interest in environmental issues. Chairman of professional development committee of AIChE.  National Science Foundation grant to help disadvantaged students study pollution.  Two children.  Vietnam War protests at Poly.  Increased participation in AIChE to represent profession and to provide general knowledge to public; felt United States should have strong technical underpinning.

Years with Government 69

More interested in environmental problems.  Up for promotion at Poly but left for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Found pollution areas fragmented; wanted to combine media.  Describes work at Industrial Waste Treatment Research Laboratory; early work with oils; politics at Poly and in EPA.  IWTRC moved to Cincinnati, Ohio; Lederman became head of program in Washington, D.C.  Stayed one year, then headed back to New Jersey.  Publications along the way to inform public about technology as well as policy.  Shift from waste treatment to pollution control.  Industry’s economic incentives as impetus for minimization, which yields recycling.

Private Sector Years 88

Four years at Research-Cottrell, improving and developing application of electrostatic precipitators.  Trips to Japan for negotiation; managing crises. Permitting too onerous; no power plants being built.  Superfund implemented;
hazardous materials becoming hot issue.  Went to Roy F. Weston to consult on hazardous materials.  Quoted on Love Canal; thought retroactivity of laws unconstitutional.  Responsible for government contracts, especially technical assistance for emergency response and consulting.  Strategic policy regarding hazardous materials.  Preferred problem-solving to paper-pushing.  Also active in Boy Scouts of America; his temple; tennis.  Became chair of environmental division of AIChE to engage with and inform U.S. Congress.  Changes in AIChE; expansion of chemical engineering into many other fields. Cecil Award.  Kappe Award.  Chemical engineering good preparation for environmental management and engineering.  Public pressure, available money, willingness of industry led to environmental progress.

Back to Academia 102

New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, New Jersey:  Executive Director, Center for Environmental Engineering and Sciences (NJIT); Executive Director, Office of Intellectual Property; and Research Professor of Chemical Engineering and Environmental Policy.  Responsible for all aspects of grants; managed patents and licenses; negotiated contracts; informally mentored students and junior faculty. Still consulting pro bono for National Research Council.  Decontamination. Chemical weapons disposal.  Hazardous materials experience, process engineering, and environmental knowledge in general provided expertise for nuclear weapons
work.

Retirement and some general thoughts 105

After eight years at NJIT found replacement and retired.  Felt only failure was
inability to get chemistry/chemical engineering department to work with civil/environmental department.  Now on  Science Advisory Board of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.  Though not formally trained in environmental science, he is remembered for and given awards for his environmental work.  Feels cost-benefit analysis crucial, but life-cycle not considered; now not economically prepared for life-cycle analysis, perhaps never. Consistency necessary.  Nuclear waste more dangerous than hazardous materials. Do the least harm but do not do nothing in order to avoid harm.

Index 111

  About the Interviewer

David J. Caruso

David Caruso earned a B.A. in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a Ph.D. in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2007. His dissertation research focused on the interaction of American military and medical personnel from the Spanish-American War through World War I and the institutional transformations that resulted in the rise of American military medicine as a unique form of knowledge and practice.

Caruso is the program manager for CHF's oral history program. His current research interests are the discipline formation of biomedical science in 20th-century America and the organizational structures that have contributed to such formation.

Sarah L. Hunter-Lascoskie

Sarah L. Hunter-Lascoskie earned a B.A. in history at the University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. in public history at Temple University. Her research has focused on the ways in which historical narratives are created, shaped, and presented to diverse groups. Before Sarah joined CHF, she was the Peregrine Arts Samuel S. Fels research intern and Hidden City project coordinator. Sarah is currently a program associate for the Oral History Program at CHF and leads projects that connect oral history and public history, including the oral history program’s online exhibits. She also contributes to CHF’s Periodic Tabloid and Distillations.

Jody A. Roberts

Jody A. Roberts is the Associate Director for the Center for Contemporary History and Policy and the Manager of the Environmental History and Policy Program at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Roberts received his Ph.D. and M.S. in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech and holds a B.S. in Chemistry from Saint Vincent College. His research focuses on the intersections of regulation, innovation, environmental issues, and emerging technologies within the chemical sciences.

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