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Harold A. Scheraga

  • Born: October 18, 1921, Brooklyn, New York
  • View the Front Matter and Index of this interview

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0064
Interview Date: February 10, 1987
Location: Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 61
Minutes: 180

  Abstract of Interview

Harold Scheraga starts this interview by recalling his childhood in Monticello, New York and then in Brooklyn, where he attended Brooklyn Boys High School. There he was attracted to Latin and mathematics. Scheraga decided to concentrate on chemistry only when he began attending the City College of New York. In the late thirties, CCNY graduates met some difficulties when trying to continue to graduate school. However, Scheraga was offered a place at Duke University, where the chemistry department was chaired by Paul Gross, himself a CCNY graduate. Along with his graduate research on the Kerr effect, Scheraga contributed to the wartime projects on the frangible bullet and on gas-phase halogenation. Influenced in part by the Cohn and Edsall book Peptides, Amino-Acids and Proteins, Scheraga consolidated his growing interest in biochemical areas by a postdoctoral year at Harvard. From there, he was appointed as an instructor in the chemistry department at Cornell, where he has spent the rest of his career, including a period (1960–1967) as chairman. During the 1970s, he was also a visiting professor at the Weizmann Institute. In the second part of his interview with Bohning, Scheraga describes the development of his research activities He first goes into the hydrodynamic properties of polymer solutions, which then led to his extensive work on protein structure and function. Scheraga also recounts his achievements as departmental chairman, with the construction of the new chemistry building and the appointment of new faculty. International collaboration has always been important to Scheraga, and he details his sabbaticals at the Carlsberg laboratory and his later association with the Weizmann Institute.


1941 B.S., Chemistry, City College of New York
1942 A.M., Chemistry, Duke University
1946 Ph.D., Chemistry, Duke University

  Professional Experience

Harvard Medical School

1946 - 1947

American Chemical Society Postdoctoral Fellow

Cornell University

1947 - 1950 Instructor, Chemistry

Cornell University

1950 - 1953 Assistant Professor

Cornell University

1953 - 1958 Associate Professor

Cornell University

1958 - 1965 Professor

Cornell University

1960 - 1967 Chairman, Chemistry Department

Cornell University

1965 Todd Professor of Chemistry

Weizmann Institute, Rehovoth, Israel

1970 - 1980 Visiting Professor


1956 - 1957 Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright Research Scholar, Carlsberg Laboratory, Copenhagen
1957 Eli Lilly Award, American Chemical Society
1961 Honorary D.Sc., Duke University
1962 Welch Foundation Lecturer, University of Texas
1963 Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright Research Scholar, Weizmann Institute, Rehovoth, Israel
1966 Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences
1967 Elected Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1968 Harvey Lecturer, New York
1968 - 1969 Gallagher Lecturer, City College of New York
1970 Townsend Harris Lecturer, City College of New York
1973 Lemieux Lecturer, University of Ottawa
1974 Nichols Medal, New York Section, American Chemical Society
1976 Hill Lecturer, Duke University
1977 City College Chemistry Alumni Scientific Achievement Award Medal
1978 Kendall Award, Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1981 Venable Lecturer, University of North Carolina
1983 Linderstrøm-Lang Medal, Carlsberg Laboratory
1983 Kowalski Medal, International Society of Thrombosis and Haemostasis
1985 Pauling Medal, Puget Sound and Oregon Sections, American Chemical Society
1985 Honorary Life Member, New York Academy of Sciences
1989 Honorary Member, Hungarian Biophysical Society
1990 Mobil Award in Polymer Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1990 Repligen Award for Chemistry of Biological Processes, American Chemical Society

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Growing up in Monticello and Brooklyn, New York. Father as businessman. Brooklyn Boys High School, teachers and curriculum.

Undergraduate Studies 2

Decision to major in chemistry at City College. Courses at CCNY, colleagues and faculty; the political atmosphere. Search for graduate school.

Graduate Studies at Duke University 11

Research with Paul Gross and Marcus Hobbs on the Kerr effect. Interaction with Fritz London. Wartime projects; the frangible bullet; gas-phase halogenation. Graduate courses. Marriage. Developing interest in biochemistry, postdoctoral year at Harvard.

Cornell University 20

Appointment as instructor, contact with Flory and Debye. Research on macromolecular hydrodynamic properties. Protein structure; graduate students and coworkers. Sabbatical leave at the Carlsberg laboratory. Hydrogen bonding, hydrophobic interactions, helix-coil transitions. The thrombin/fibrinogen reaction. Protein folding. Chairman of chemistry department at Cornell, appointment of new faculty, new building, and the undergraduate laboratory design. Modern trends in chemistry. Nomenclature of polypeptides. Further reflections of Cornell, international collaborations.

Notes 49

Index 53

  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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