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Frederick T. Wall

  • Born: December 14, 1912, Chisholm, Minnesota

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0098
Interview Date: June 21, 1991
Location: La Jolla, California
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 61
Minutes: 258

  Abstract of Interview

Frederick Wall begins the interview with a discussion of his family background and childhood in Minnesota. During high school, Wall developed an interest in chemistry and mathematics, and planned to become a chemical engineer. He attended the University of Minnesota, studying both chemistry and chemical engineering. One of his professors there, George Glockler, influenced both his decision to focus on physical chemistry and to pursue graduate work. After graduating with a B.S. in chemistry in 1933, Wall was awarded an assistantship at Caltech, which he accepted. Due to financial difficulties exacerbated by the Depression, he only spent a year at Caltech. While he was there, however, he was greatly influenced by Linus Pauling. Wall moved back to the University of Minnesota, and continued his graduate work under Glockler. He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1935, and soon thereafter accepted a teaching position at the University of Illinois. He began working on infrared spectroscopy, and did some theoretical work on covalent and ionic character. Gradually, he became interested in polymers, and when World War II broke, he volunteered to work on the rubber problem. Carl Marvel and Roger Adams then helped Wall to get a consulting job with DuPont, which he continued for many years. In 1955, he became Dean of the graduate college at Illinois. In 1963, Wall decided to leave Illinois and moved to the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he became Chairman of the chemistry department and Vice Chancellor for Research at Santa Barbara and later Vice Chanellor for Research at San Diego. In 1969, he became executive director of the American Chemical Society (ACS), but soon rejoined academia, becoming professor of chemistry at Rice University. At Rice, Wall resumed his theoretical polymer research, particularly polymer configuration on lattices. Seven years later, he moved back to California, taking a lecturing position at San Diego State University, and in 1981 becoming an adjunct professor at the University of California at San Diego. The interview concludes with a discussion of his time at the ACS and his colleagues in California.


1933 B.S., Chemistry, University of Minnesota
1937 Ph.D., Chemistry, University of Minnesota

  Professional Experience

University of Illinois

1937 - 1939 Instructor

University of Illinois

1939 - 1941 Associate

University of Illinois

1941 - 1943 Assistant Professor

University of Illinois

1943 - 1946 Associate Professor

University of Illinois

1946 - 1964 Professor

University of Illinois

1950 - 1963 Chairman, University Research Board

University of Illinois

1955 - 1963 Dean of Graduate College and Research Professor

University of California, Santa Barbara

1964 - 1966 Professor and Chairman, Department of Chemistry

University of California, Santa Barbara

1965 - 1966 Vice Chancellor for Research

University of California, San Diego

1966 - 1969 Professor of Chemistry, Vice Chancellor for Graduate Studies and Research

American Chemical Society

1969 - 1972 Executive Director

Rice University

1972 - 1978 Professor of Chemistry

San Diego State University

1979 - 1981 Lecturer in Chemistry

University of California, San Diego

1981 - 1991 Adjunct Professor of Chemistry


1945 Award in Pure Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1959 Outstanding Achievement Award, University of Minnesota
1961 Member, National Academy of Sciences
Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family Background and Early Education 1

Finnish parents. Siblings. Grade school in Chisolm, Minnesota. High school in Minneapolis. Interest in chemistry and mathematics.

College Years 4

Attending University of Minnesota. Pursuing chemistry and chemical engineering. Decision to become physical chemist. Influence of George Glockler. Desire to earn Ph.D.

Graduate Study 5

Assistantship at Caltech. Working with Linus Pauling. Introduction to quantum mechanics. Leaving Caltech. Returning to University of Minnesota. Working with Glockler. Reflections on colleagues.

University of Illinois 12

Decision to take an academic job. Enjoyment of teaching. Research on infrared spectroscopy. Theoretical work. Interest in polymers. Synthetic Rubber Research Program. Consulting for DuPont. Chairing University Research Board. Interest in computers. Monte Carlo simulation. Becoming dean. Pauling's lectures and decision to sign non-Communist oath. Edward Yellin case.

Move to California 30

Decision to leave Illinois. Position at University of California at Santa Barbara. Leaving Santa Barbara for San Diego. Getting Pauling a position at UCSD. Inability to continue research.

Return to Academia 34

Position at Rice University. Welch Foundation grant. Polymer research. Discrete systems. Macromolecular configurations. Teaching at San Diego State University. Adjunct position at UCSD. Book on chemical thermodynamics. Consulting at Shell. Remembering Paul Flory, Peter Debye. Election to National Academy of Sciences. Relationship with Harold Urey.

American Chemical Society 50

Accepting job of executive director. Difficulties of position. Interactions with Melvin Calvin. Chemical and Engineering News.

Notes 56

Index 59

  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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