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Rudolph Pariser

Rudolph Pariser

CHF Collections, Photograph by Conrad Erb

  • Born: Harbin, China

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0320
Interview Date: October 28, 2005
Location: Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interviewers: Arthur Daemmrich and George G. Cremer
No. of pages: 78
Sponsor: Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation
Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

Rudolph (Rudy) Pariser was born in Harbin, China to Ludwig Jacob Pariser and Lia Rubinstein. His father was a German POW during World War I, who escaped from his Russian captives near Manchuria while being transported on the Trans-Siberian Railway. He made his way to Harbin, where he became a live-in tutor for the Shapiro family, and ended up eventually taking over their import/export business. Rudy's mother was a refugee of the Russian Revolution and a relative of the Shapiro family. She made her way to Harbin from Estonia after her family's leather factory was destroyed in the Revolution.

Rudy describes his childhood in Harbin as being quite pleasant. His family lived in a very nice apartment, with servants and a boat on the river. He attended a German school in Harbin, the Von Hindenburg Schule. His friends included children from the foreign business community in Harbin, which was reasonably large, as well as Russian refugees who had fled to Harbin from the Revolution. In 1936, Rudy was sent to an American Missionary School in Beijing, where he lived in the dormitories. The school had a rather strict, quite religious atmosphere. In the summer of 1937, the school was destroyed by the invading Japanese.

Rudy's parents next sent him to the American School in Japan, in Tokyo. It was a school of nearly two hundred students, and many of his teachers were recent American college graduates with advanced degrees who had relished the opportunity to come to Japan and teach. While there, Rudy reinforced his interest in chemistry, thanks in part to the influence of his chemistry teacher, David Misner, whose love for the subject was apparent in the way he taught. Rudy was also strongly encouraged by his father, whom he remembers saying, "If I were you, I wouldn't be a businessman. I'd be a chemist."

By the summer of 1941, tension between Japan and the United States was high and Rudy's parents knew that Rudy had to leave for the U.S. to continue his education. They decided to send Rudy to California with his mother, while his father stayed behind with the business in Harbin. The attack on Pearl Harbor, on 7 December 1941, prevented Rudy's mother from returning to China. Rudy attended the University of California at Berkeley and worked as a Russian translator, and later at the Richmond shipyards, to earn money for himself and his mother. He earned a degree in chemical technology from Berkeley in less than three years, where he was taught by renowned professors like Joel Hildebrand, William F. Giauque, Melvin Calvin, and Frank Oppenheimer.

Upon graduation, he began working as a chemist for Kaiser Permanente Mills. He held that job only briefly before his strong feelings about the War got the best of him and he enlisted in the Army. Although he had a college degree in chemistry and could speak multiple languages, Rudy was also very physically fit, and since fitness was of the highest priority in the Army, he was placed in the infantry. There he was trained for the invasion and occupation of Germany, but through a series of errors he was sent to the Signal Corps in Missouri instead of the front lines, and never actually made it to Germany.

After Rudy had completed his military service, he pursued his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Minnesota. He trained under Dr. Robert L. Livingston and did his thesis on chlorophyll photosensitized reactions in solutions. Rudy also met Robert G. Parr for the first time at Minnesota, where Parr was finishing up his Ph.D. in 1947, about when Rudy arrived.

Rudy Pariser received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1950, whereupon he began looking for employment. He interviewed at DuPont's Jackson Laboratory, in the Organic Chemicals Department. Though he had been concerned that it would have a "plant" atmosphere, he found the lab to be of a very high scientific caliber. He was offered a Research Chemist position and accepted with pleasure.

One of his first assignments was to examine the stability of whitening agents, and after that work was completed he proposed to work on the relationship between a dye's structure and its color. He remembered that Robert Parr had done his thesis work on calculating the energy levels in ethylene and benzene, and he gained approval to engage Parr as a consultant to help with that project.

In his thesis, Parr pioneered a rigorous quantum mechanical procedure, which was extremely demanding especially in regard to computing inter-electronic repulsion integrals. However, the calculated energy levels were not in satisfactory agreement with experimental values. Soon after commencing their collaboration, Parr discovered the "zero differential overlap approximation" which dramatically simplified the calculation of the repulsion integrals; the same results for benzene as in Parr's thesis could now be calculated very easily. However, in order to achieve agreement with Parr's experiment, Rudy discovered a method for adjusting the values of these integrals, which was based on the use of atomic ionization potentials and electron affinities. Then, taking advantage of IBM's new computer technology, Rudy developed a program to perform such calculations for large molecules very efficiently. He produced results that were in very close agreement with experimental values, and that also predicted as yet undiscovered excited states, such as triplet states. In recognition of subsequent contributions by John Pople, the theory became known as the Pariser-Parr-Pople theory, or PPP theory. The theory continues to receive worldwide recognition.

With the development of PPP theory, Rudy had become well known in the scientific community. At DuPont, he began his rise through the ranks of research management. In 1970, Rudy was promoted to Director of Exploratory Research, Elastomers Department. Under his leadership, his group developed many important products for DuPont, including certain Viton products, and new products like Vamac, Hytrel, and Kalrez. At that time, also reporting to Rudy was Charles J. Pedersen, who was honored with the chemistry Nobel Prize in 1987.

Subsequently, as Science Director of Advanced Materials in Central Research, Rudy's organization discovered and helped to commercialize group transfer polymerization, novel high temperature superconductors, and other electronic and ceramic products.

Rudy's success with products was matched by his skills as a manager. During his long tenure in DuPont management, Rudy mentored many people who became future leaders and Vice Presidents at DuPont and elsewhere, including Thomas M. Connelly, Uma Chowdhry, and James M. Meyer.

In 2003, Rudy was awarded the Lavoisier Medal, DuPont's highest award for technical achievement.

Rudy retired from DuPont, and in 1989 he formed R. Pariser & Co., Inc., consulting primarily for R&D management. He also remained active on various university advisory boards, such as at the American Chemical Society, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Rudy was married to Louise (formerly Margaret Louise Marsh) in Bermuda in 1972. Louise hails from an old, established family in North Carolina. Although Louise and Rudy were brought up "on opposite sides of the world," their values are extremely compatible. Rudy and his wife reside currently in Hockessin, Delaware.


1941 American School in Japan (ASIJ)
1944 B.Sc., Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley
1950 Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, University of Minnesota

  Professional Experience

Infantry and Signal Corps, United States Army

1944 - 1946


E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1950 - 1954

Research Chemist, Organic Chemicals Department

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1954 - 1959 Research Supervisor, Organic Chemicals Department

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1959 - 1963 Division Head, Elastomer Chemicals Department

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1967 - 1970 Assistant Laboratory Director, Elastomer Chemicals Department

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1967 - 1970 Laboratory Director, Elastomer Chemicals Department

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1970 - 1972 Director, Exploratory Research

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1970 - 1972 Manager, Research and Development, Elastomer Chemicals Department

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1972 - 1974 Manager, Market Research & Market Development, Elastomer Chemicals Department

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1974 - 1979 Director, Pioneering Research, Elastomer Chemicals Department

National Research Council, NAS/NAE

1979 - 1981 Co-chairman, Panel on Polymer Science and Engineering

National Research Council, NAS/NAE

1979 - 1982 Committee on Chemical Sciences

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1980 - 1981 Research Director, Polymer Products Department

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1981 - 1986 Director, Polymer Science, Central Research & Development Department

National Research Council, NAS/NAE

1984 - 1984 Co-chairman, Panel on High Performance Composites

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1986 - 1988 Director, Advanced Materials Science, Central Research & Development Department

National Research Council, NAS/NAE

1986 - 1989 Committee on Materials Science and Engineering

National Science Foundation

1986 - 1989 Materials Research Advisory Committee

R. Pariser & Co., Inc.

1989 - Present President

National Science Foundation

1994 - 1994 VPI evaluation and site visit

National Research Council, NAS/NAE

1996 - 1998 Committee on Fire Suppression Substitutes and Alternatives to Halon

National Science Foundation

1999 - 1999 Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR)

Chemical Heritage Foundation

2002 - Present Executive, Program and Membership Committees, Joseph Priestley Society

Chemical Heritage Foundation

2003 - Present Executive Committee, Robert Boyle Society

Chemical Heritage Foundation

2005 - Present Board of Overseers


1957 Delaware Section Award, American Chemical Society
1976 Outstanding Achievement Award, University of Minnesota
1990 International Journal of Quantum Chemistry, April Issue, in honor of Rudolph Pariser, Robert G. Parr, and John A. Pople
2001 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
2001 Fellow, World Innovation Foundation
2002 Honorary Fellow, World Innovation Foundation
2003 The Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement
2004 Emeritus Certificate, Rubber Division, American Chemical Society
2004 Fellow, International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family Background and Youth 1

Growing up in Harbin, China. How Pariser's father and mother ended up in Harbin. Attending the Von Hindenburg Schule. A brief history of Manchuria. Experiencing World War II from the Far East. Attending American School in Japan (ASIJ). Mother's work with World War II refugees. Jim Rasbury.

Moving to the United States 9

Enrolling at the University of California at Berkeley. Father's escape from Harbin. Working at Kaiser Permanente Mills. The Chemistry Department at UC Berkeley. Enlisting in the United States Army. Experiences in the Army. Ph.D. work on chlorophyll photosensitized reactions at the University of Minnesota.

Joining DuPont 17

Jackson Laboratory. Research on stilbene derivatives. Mentors. Research on the relationship between structure and color of dyes. Working with Robert Parr. Zero differential overlap. Using IBM computers. The Spectroscopy and Molecular Structure Symposium of 1952. Calculations with PPP Theory.

Managing at DuPont 25

Considering an academic career. Impressions of the IBM 701. Doing polymer-related work. Joining the Elastomer Chemicals Department. Neoprene research. Developing Viton. The Pariser Prize. Becoming the Director of Exploratory Research. Developing Vamac. Developing Hytrel. Developing Kalrez. Rewarding performance.

Later Management Positions 35

Working in the Sales Department. Departmentalization at DuPont. The affect of the 1970s oil crisis on DuPont. Becoming the Research Director in charge of Pioneering Research. Working on group-transfer polymerization. Charles Pederson. Crown ethers. Pederson's research. Central Research as "Purity Hall." Mentoring at DuPont.

Conclusions 42

Charles Overberger. Experiences at the NRC. On the ad hoc panel of Department of Energy chemistry research. Edel Wasserman. Halon fire suppression. CHEMRAWN VII and XIV. Meeting Margaret Louise Marsh. Thoughts on his legacy at DuPont. Winning the Lavoisier Medal.

Notes 47

Appendix - Illustrations 50

Index 67

  About the Interviewer

Arthur Daemmrich

Arthur Daemmrich is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School and a senior research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. His research examines science, medicine, and the state, with a focus on advancing theories of risk and regulation through empirical research on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical sectors. At HBS he also plays an active role in an interdisciplinary Healthcare Initiative, advancing scholarship and developing applied lessons for the business of creating and delivering health services and health-related technologies. Daemmrich was previously the director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He earned a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University in 2002 and has held fellowships at the Social Science Research Council/Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has published widely on pharmaceutical and chemical regulation, biotechnology business and policy, innovation, and history of science.

George G. Cremer

George G. Cremer is a former program assistant in the biotechnology program of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at Chemical Heritage Foundation. He holds a B.A. degree in history from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and is working toward a B.S. in mechanical engineering at Drexel University. Cremer was a member of the oral history program for two years prior to joining the biotechnology program, where he is currently aiding in the research of commercial biotech in the United States from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s.

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