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Leo Mandelkern

Leo Mandelkern

CHF Collections, Photograph by Jim Bohning

  • Born: February 23, 1922, New York, New York
  • Died: May 31, 2006

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0029
Interview Date: April 28, 1986
Location: Florida State University,
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 43
Minutes: 120

  Abstract of Interview

In this interview Professor Leo Mandelkern begins with his early years in New York City and his undergraduate education at Cornell University. This is followed by his service as a meterologist during World War II. In the central portion of the interview, Mandelkern describes his graduate education at Cornell, including his association with J. G. Kirkwood, Franklin Long, and Paul Flory. Particular emphasis is given to his postdoctoral work with Flory and collaborative work with Harold Scheraga. The details of Mandelkern's career at the National Bureau of Standards include Bureau operations and management in the 1950s. The interview continues with more recent work at Florida State, including students and post-docs, and concludes with comments on methods of solving scientific controversies, especially as it relates to his role in the problem of the folded chain.


1942 A.B., Chemistry, Cornell University
1949 Ph.D., Chemistry, Cornell University

  Professional Experience

Cornell University

1949 - 1952 Research Associate

National Bureau of Standards

1952 - 1962 Physical Chemist

Florida State University

1962 - 2006 Professor of Chemistry

Florida State University

1970 - 1974 Associate Director, Institute of Molecular Biophysics


1957 Medal Award for Meritorious Service, United States Department of Commerce, National Bureau of Standards
1958 Arthur S. Fleming Award, Washington DC Junior Chamber of Commerce
1975 Witco Award in Polymer Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1984 Florida Award, American Chemical Society, Lakeland, Florida
1984 Mettler Award, North American Thermal Analysis Society

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Parents. High school in Brooklyn. Physics, chemistry, and history teachers. Growing up in New York City. Regents Scholarship.

Undergraduate Education at Cornell 3

History major. Switch to chemistry major. Chemistry courses and instructors. Jacob Papish. Simon Bauer. Jack Johnson. Undergraduate research with J. G. Kirkwood. Undergradute student colleagues.

Service in World War II 7

Meteorology program. Training at Miami Beach, University of North Carolina, and the University of Chicago. Assigned to U.S. Signal Corp. Meteorological equipment maintenance in the South Pacific.

Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Work at Cornell 9

Thesis work with Franklin Long. Introduction to polymers. Courses with Kirkwood, Richard Feynman, and Hans Bethe. Student colleagues. Baker Lectures. Postdoctoral period with Paul Flory. Early work on polymer crystallinity. Flory's group and research. Collaboration with Harold Scheraga on protein hydrodynamic properties. Difficulties in publishing paper with Scheraga. Flory as research mentor.

National Bureau of Standards 18

Organization of the Bureau. L.A. Wood. Norman Bekkedahl. Scientific and intellectual freedom. Work in polymer crystallinity, glass transition temperatures, and sedimentation equilibria. Polymer Structure Section. Coworkers. Bureau facilities. Reasons for leaving the Bureau.  

Florida State University 24

The folded-chain problem. Move to Florida State University. Michael Kasha. Origin and early history of the Institute of Molecular Biophysics. Administrative responsibilities. Book on crystallization of polymers. Difficulties with the folded chain concept.

Polymer Education and Research 30

Introduction to Macromolecules. Polymer education at the undergraduate level. Conformational analysis of peptides. Graduate students and their careers. Scientific controversy and the folded chain problem.

Notes 35

Index 37

  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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