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Michael Szwarc

Michael Szwarc

CHF Collections, Photograph by Jim Bohning

  • Born: June 9, 1909, Bedzin, Poland
  • Died: August 3, 2000

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0054
Interview Date: September 11, 1986
Location: Solana Beach, California
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 41
Minutes: 210

  Abstract of Interview

In this interview, Michael Szwarc begins with his early interest in science while growing up in Poland, leading to his studies at the Warsaw Polytechnic Institute. Szwarc next describes his experiences from 1935, when he emigrated to Israel, until his move to the University of Manchester in 1945. At Manchester, he worked in Michael Polanyi's physical chemistry group and first embarked on his studies on polymerization. A 1950s visit to the USA, involving many lecture trips, is described, as are the circumstances leading to his acceptance of a professorship at SUNY, Syracuse. Research on the methyl affinities of aromatic compounds led Szwarc to work with the naphthalene radical anion and, hence, to the development of the living polymers. The interview ends with Szwarc reviewing his later studies and his reflections on co-workers and associates.

Audio recording of this interview is not available.


1932 Chemical Engineering, Warsaw Polytechnic Institute
1942 Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
1947 Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, University of Manchester
1949 D.Sc. University of Manchester

  Professional Experience

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

1934 - 1942 Assistant

University of Manchester

1947 - 1952 Lecturer in Chemistry

State University of New York at Syracuse

1952 - 1956 Professor of Physical and Polymer Chemistry

State University of New York at Syracuse

1956 - 1964 Research Professor

State University of New York at Syracuse

1964 - 1980 Distinguished Professor

State University of New York at Syracuse

1967 - 1980 Director, Polymer Research Center

State University of New York at Syracuse

1980 Emeritus Professor


1963 - 1964 Royal Society Visiting Professor, University of Liverpool
1966 Fellow of the Royal Society
1969 - 1970 Nobel Guest Professor, Uppsala University
1969 Award in Polymer Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1972 International Award, Plastics Science and Engineering
1972 Baker Lecturer, Cornell University
1974 Visiting Professor, Louvain University, Belgium
1974 Hon. D.Sc., University of Louvain
1975 Hon. D.Sc., University of Uppsala
1976 Lemieux Lecturer, University of Ottawa
1978 Hon. D.Sc., Louis Pasteur University, Strasbourg, France
1978 - 1979 Visiting Professor, University of California, San Diego
1990 Polymer Division Award, American Chemical Society

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Gymnasium in Poland, Infeld amongst teachers, early interest in science. Recent history of Poland. High school facilities, advanced lectures in physics and mathematics.

Warsaw Polytechnic 6

Course contents. Swietoslawski and calorimetry.

Industrial Employment 9

Barium sulfate, nucleation.

Emigration to Israel 11

Teaching at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Absorption of scientific words into Hebrew. Faculty at the University, Ph.D. in organic chemistry. Wartime production of phosphoric acid.

University of Manchester 16

Michael Polanyi. Bond dissociation energies, colleagues at Manchester. Poly-p-xylylene. Lecture tour of United States.

Syracuse 23

Studies of methyl affinities. Living polymers. Transport through polymer films. Visiting professor at Liverpool. Uppsala and Claesson, flash photolysis.

Notes 36

Index 38

  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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