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Rudolph A. Marcus

Rudolph A. Marcus

Courtesy of John D. Roberts, CHF Collections

  • Born: July 21, 1923, Montréal, Québec, Canada

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0097
Interview Date: June 20, 1991
Location: Pasadena, California
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 87

  Abstract of Interview

Rudolph Marcus begins the interview with a discussion of his family background and early education. Though he spent some of his early years in Detroit, Michigan, he primarily grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Montreal, Canada. Marcus was encouraged to continue his education by his parents and his uncles. He enrolled in the twelfth grade, the equivalent of the first year of college, to save money for the university. Marcus then attended McGill University, majoring in chemistry. He graduated with a B.Sc. in 1943. Due to the war, he was able to take his fourth year in the course of a summer. Marcus went directly to graduate school, also at McGill, and studied physical chemistry with Carl Winkler. His research, RDX, was determined by war needs, and he received his Ph.D. in 1946. He spent an additional two and a half years on a National Research Council of Canada post-doc with Edward W. R. Steacie. In 1949, Marcus moved to the University of North Carolina, accepting a position with Oscar Rice, who had received an Office of Naval Research contract. It was there that Marcus began to focus on theory, particularly unimolecular and transition state theory. The result of this work was the development of the RRKM theory. In 1951, Marcus moved again, this time to Brooklyn Polytechnic University, where he became an assistant professor in the chemistry department. Marcus discusses his colleagues, including Herman Mark, Herbert Morawetz, and Charles Overberger, as well as the atmosphere of the institution. He became interested in electrostatics and polyelectrolytes. He also began some polymer research, and pursued work on electron transfer. In 1964, Marcus left Brooklyn Polytechnic for the University of Illinois. During his time there, he spent a few semesters at Oxford University as a visiting professor. In 1978, Marcus accepted a position at Caltech, where he began collaborating with Ahmed Zewail. His desire to pursue his research led him to decline administrative work. At Caltech, Marcus continued his electron transfer research. He concludes the interview with a discussion of his family, the challenges of research, and thoughts on his electron transfer work.


1943 B.Sc., Chemistry, McGill University
1946 Ph.D., Chemistry, McGill University

  Professional Experience

RDX Project

1944 - 1946 Research Staff Member

National Research Council of Canada

1946 - 1949 Junior Research Officer in Photochemistry

University of North Carolina

1949 - 1951 Postdoctoral Research Associate in Theoretical Chemistry

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn

1951 - 1954 Assistant Professor of Physical Chemistry

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn

1954 - 1958 Associate Professor of Physical Chemistry

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn

1958 - 1964 Professor of Physical Chemistry

University of Illinois

1964 - 1978 Professor of Physical Chemistry

California Institute of Technology

1978 - Present Arthur Amos Noyes Professor of Chemistry


1943 Anne Molson Prize, McGill University
1972 Senior Fulbright-Hayes Scholar, Fulbright Program
1976 Senior U.S. Scientist Award, Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung Foundation
1978 Irving Langmuir Award in Chemistry and Physics, American Chemical Society
1979 The Electrochemical Society Lecture Award
1982 Robinson Medal, Faraday Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry
1983 Chandler Medal, Columbia University
1983 D.Sc., honorary, University of Chicago
1985 Wolf Prize in Chemistry
1986 D.Sc., honorary, Polytechnic University
1987 D.Sc., honorary, University of Göteborg, Sweden
1988 Centenary Medal, Faraday Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry
1988 D.Sc., honorary, McGill University, Canada
1988 Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1988 Willard Gibbs Medal, Chicago Section, American Chemical Society
1989 National Medal of Science
1990 Evans Award, Ohio State University
1990 Theodore William Richards Medal, Northeastern Section, American
1991 Edgar Fahs Smith Award, Philadelphia Section, American Chemical Society
1991 Ira Remsen Memorial Award, Maryland Section, American Chemical Society
1991 Pauling Medal, Portland, Oregon and Puget Sound Section, American Chemical Society
1992 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
1993 Hirschfelder Prize in Theoretical Chemistry, University of Wisconsin
1993 D.Sc., honorary, University of New Brunswick, Canada
1993 D.Sc., honorary, Queen's University, Canada
1993 American Academy of Achievement Gold Plate Award
1994 Lavoisier Medal, Sociéte Française de Chimie
1995 D.Sc., honorary, University of Oxford, England
1996 D.Sc., honorary, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
1996 D.Sc., honorary, Yokohama National University, Japan
1996 Auburn-Kosolapoff Award, Auburn Section, American Chemical Society
1997 D.Sc., honorary, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
1997 Award in Theoretical Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1997 Oesper Award, Cincinnati Section, American Chemical Society
1998 D.Sc., honorary, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israel
1998 Top 75 Award, Chemical and Engineering News, American Chemical Society

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Life and Education 1

Family background. Influence of uncles. Growing up in Canada. Interest in education.

College Years 5

Attending McGill. Influence of mother. Financing higher education. Research with Carl Winkler. Interest in kinetics. Decision to attend graduate school. Work on RDX.

Postdoctoral Research 12

Working with Edward W. R. Steacie. Growing fascination with theory. Working with Oscar Rice at the University of North Carolina. Office of Naval Research contract. Development of RRKM theory. Colleagues.

Brooklyn Polytechnic University 19

Office of Naval Research contract. Electrostatics. Colleagues. Atmosphere in department. Polymer work. Interest in polyelectrolytes. Experimental work on electron transfer. Ion exchange resins. Flash photolysis. Boron hydrides. Unimolecular processes. NSF senior postdoctoral fellowship. Relationship between experiment and theory.

University of Illinois 37

Decision to leave Brooklyn Poly. Teaching graduate courses. Visiting professor at Oxford University.

California Institute of Technology 44

Work with Ahmed Zewail. Declining administrative work. Desire to continue research. Electron transfer research. Two-site behavior in photosynthesis. Long range electron transfer. Collaborators.

Conclusion 53

Children. Interest in history. Electrochemical hydrogen evolution. Transition state theory. Challenges of research. Thoughts on electron transfer research. Awards.

Notes 63

Appendix 74

Index 80

  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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