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Melvin S. Newman

Melvin Newman

Courtesy of John D. Roberts, CHF Collections

  • Born: March 10, 1908, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Died: May 30, 1993, Columbus, Ohio

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0004
Interview Dates: March 3, 1979 and March 4, 1979
Location: Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
Interviewers: Milton Orchin and John H. Wotiz
No. of pages: 87
Minutes: 450

  Abstract of Interview

This interview covers the education, teaching, and research of Melvin S. Newman, an eminent organic chemist. Initially, Newman discusses his family, childhood, and early education. He then elucidates his undergraduate and graduate activities at Yale and describes his initial experiences at Ohio State University, where he has spent most of his academic career. The interview continues with Newman's remarks about his early consulting and doctoral advising. The central portion of the interview contains Newman's reflections about his research at Ohio State and his approach to teaching in the classroom and in the laboratory. His publications, use of the innovative "Newman Projection," later consulting, patents, and awards are also discussed. The interview concludes with Newman's views about research funding, former students, and philosophies of teaching and administration.


1929 B.S., Chemistry, Yale University
1932 Ph.D., Chemistry, Yale University
1933 National Tuberculosis Association Fellowship Yale University
1934 National Research Council Fellowship Columbia University
1934 Research Fellowship Harvard University

  Professional Experience

Ohio State University

1936 - 1939 Instructor, Department of Chemistry

Ohio State University

1940 - 1944 Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry

United States Bureau of Mines

1944 - 1944 Consultant

Ohio State University

1944 - 1965 Professor, Department of Chemistry

Upjohn Company

1945 - 1978 Consultant

University of Glasgow

1957 - 1957 Fulbright Professor

Ohio State University

1965 - 1978 Regents Professor, Department of Chemistry

University of Glasgow

1967 - 1967 Fulbright Professor

Ohio State University

1978 - Present Emeritus Professor, Department of Chemistry


1939 - 1940 Howald Scholar, Ohio State University
1949 Guggenheim Fellow
1951 Guggenheim Fellow
1956 Elected member of National Academy of Sciences
1961 American Chemical Society Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry
1965 Honorary D.Sc. degree, University of New Orleans
1970 Wilbur Cross Medal, Yale University
1975 Joseph Sullivant Award, Ohio State University
1978 Honorary D.Sc. degree, Bowling Green State University
1979 Roger Adams Award of American Chemical Society
1979 Honorary D.Sc. degree, Ohio State University

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Family 1

Siblings. Father's occupation. Relocation from New Orleans to New York City. Early love of sports. Tutoring by an organic chemist.

Undergraduate Years at Yale 4

Preoccupation with golf. A major in chemistry.

Graduate Years at Yale 5

Parental pressure to go into business. Graduate work in chemistry. R. J. Anderson as thesis director and lessons that he taught. The thesis topic.

Initial Encounters at Ohio State University 11

Prof. William Evans. Salary. Teaching assignments. The chemistry faculty at Ohio State. Promotion to assistant professor. 

Consulting Work at Upjohn 18

Hired as a consultant. The vitamin A synthesis. Liquid ammonia syntheses.

Early Doctoral Advising 21

Lloyd Joshel. Milton Orchin. Harold Vivian.


Methodology and Innovative Aspects of Teaching 23

Initial experiences in the classroom. "Teach a few things well rather than a lot of things poorly." Importance of showing students the worth of organic chemistry to society. Emphasis upon independent study. The program to acquaint outstanding high school students with the enterprise of chemistry.


Research at Ohio State 29

Polycyclic hydrocarbon work. The general synthesis of benzanthracene derivatives. Pseudoesters and sterifications. Work with sulfuric acid. The application of physical chemistry to specific problems.


Newman Projections 34

The genesis. Its advantages. Three dimensional representation on a flat surface.


Philosophy of Laboratory Instruction 37

Independent work stressed. Accountability for ninety percent yield of products.


More Research and Publishing 38

Steric Effects in Organic Chemistry. Optical activity in hydrocarbons. Aromatic electrophilic substitution. Work with 4,5-dimethylacridine.


Additional Consulting 45

Continental Oil Company. Diamond Alkali. International Flavors and Fragrances. The National Academy of Sciences. 


Activity in the Laboratory 47

An eclectic approach. Unsaturated carbonium ions. Work with vinylene carbonate.

Patents 50

A decision that allowed researchers at universities to patent their discoveries. Several patents mentioned.


Awards 54

Modesty. The true award: chemistry well done.

Advice to Students 56

The value of persistence. Give graduate students the opportunity to use individual initiative. The Rule of Six is a qualitative aid.


Research and Funding 59

Monomethyl ether. The necessity to research "useful" topics.

Graduate and Postdoctoral Students 62

Advice about career orientation. The students' success and commitment. Students from varied backgrounds. Foreign students. 

Philosophy of Administration 66

Advocacy for strong departmental chairmen. Separate teaching and administration on the departmental level. Considerations about tenure. Abuses in the granting of tenure.

Philosophy of Teaching 72

Encourage independence and initiative on the part of students. A unique lab course. The teaching of chemistry stresses lectures at the expense of laboratory work.

  About the Interviewers

Milton Orchin

Milton Orchin is an organic chemist with an interest in the history of chemistry. He received his bachelor's degree in chemistry at Ohio State University. One of Melvin Newman's first graduate students, he earned a Ph.D. from Ohio State in 1939. Since then, he has combined research in federal laboratories, especially for the United States Bureau of Mines, with university teaching both at home and abroad.

John H. Wotiz

John H. Wotiz was an organic chemist. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1919, he attended Furman University, the University of Richmond, and Ohio State University, where he received his Ph.D. degree in organic chemistry. He taught at six universities, most recently at Southern Illinois University as professor of chemistry and chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. In 1982 he received the American Chemical Society's Dexter Award in the History of Chemistry. John Wotiz died in 2001.

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