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Harland G. Wood

  • Born: September 2, 1907, Delavan, Minnesota
  • Died: September 12, 1991, Cleveland, Ohio

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0082
Interview Date: January 19, 1990
Location: Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 52
Minutes: 210
Sponsor: American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

  Abstract of Interview

Harland G. Wood begins the interview with a brief discussion of his role in the restructuring of Western Reserve University's medical curriculum. He then reflects on his childhood and education, recalling that his former Latin teacher (then, his high school principal) first sparked his interest in chemistry. He chronicles his career in chemistry and molecular biology from his college years at Macalester through his extensive laboratory research at Iowa State College, where he first developed his concept of the fixation of carbon dioxide by bacteria; the University of Minnesota, where he continued this research; various other temporary positions; and finally, his current work at Case Western Reserve University. Throughout the interview, in addition to discussing research and the influence of various colleagues and associates, he often focuses on the numerous advancements that have occurred during his lifetime and their impact (both positive and negative) on the way laboratory research is conducted. He concludes with his thoughts on the future of science, stressing the importance of continued enthusiasm and motivation in scientists of all ages.


1931 B.A., Chemistry, Macalester College
1935 Ph.D., Bacterial Physiology, Iowa State College

  Professional Experience

University of Wisconsin

1935 - 1936 Fellow, National Research Council

Iowa State College

1936 - 1943 Instructor and Assistant Professor

University of Minnesota

1943 - 1946 Associate Professor of Physiological Chemistry

Case Western Reserve University

1946 - 1965 Professor/Director, Biochemistry Department

Case Western Reserve University

1965 - 1991 Professor of Biochemistry

Case Western Reserve University

1967 - 1969 Dean of Sciences

Case Western Reserve University

1970 - 1978 University Professor

Case Western Reserve University

1978 - 1991 Emeritus University Professor in Biochemistry


1942 Eli Lilly Award in Bacteriology
1946 Sc.D., Macalester College
1952 Carl Neuberg Award
1954 Glycerine Award
1955 Senior Fulbright Research Scholarship, University Duneden (New Zealand)

Commonowealth Fellowship to Max Planck Institute für Zellchemie (Germany)

1968 Modern Medicine Award for Distinguished Achievement
1969 National Institutes of Health Senior Research Fellowship, University of Georgia
1972 Lynen Lecturer and Medal
1972 Sc.D., Northwestern University
1976 Senior Scholar, Fulbright Hays Program (Australia)
1979 Senior U.S. Scientist, Humboldt Award
1981 Alumni Citation of Distinguished Citizen, Macalester College
1982 Sc.D., University of Cincinnati
1985 Lynen Memorial Lecture, 13th International Congress of Biochemistry
1986 Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology, National Academy of Sciences
1987 Rosenstiel Medical Research Award
1988 Michelson-Morley Achievement Award
1989 Wellcome Visiting Professor in the Basic Medical Sciences Award, St. Louis University
1989 The Distinguished Achievement Citation, Iowa State University
1989 President's National Medal of Science
1990 William C. Rose Award in Biochemistry and Nutrition

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Case Western University Medical School 1

Reorganization of curriculum on an organ system basis. Fights to get changes through.

Early Education 3

Growing up in rural Minnesota. Athletics stressed by family. Grade school and high school. Hopes to go to medical school. Family background.

Macalester College 5

Effects of the Great Depression. Rooming with brother. Marries wife, Millie. Strong influence of biologyprofessor O. T. Walters. Decides to pursue Ph.D. in chemistry because he cannot afford medical school.

Iowa State College at Ames (now Iowa State University) 7

Begins work on bacteria metabolism with Chester H. Werkman. Shows C. B. van Niel to be wrong. Virtually runs laboratory on his own. First discovers fixation of carbon dioxide. Begins to work with Alfred O. Nier. Negative influence of Werkman.

Case Western University 19

Initial dissatisfaction with administration. Chairman of Biochemistry Department. Enjoys continuing laboratory work.

University of Wisconsin 21

Spends one year postdoc working with Edward L. Tatum and William H. Peterson on vitamins and metabolism. Returns to work at Iowa State because jobs difficult to find.

Iowa State College at Ames 22

Construction of mass spectrometer and thermal diffusion column. Works with Lester Krampitz and Mert Utter. Mistake prevents being first to show carbon dioxide use by animals. Nier continues to assist greatly.

University of Minnesota 30

Measures glycolysis in rats' brains. Becomes acquainted with prominent biochemists.

Case Western University 32

Reorganization of Biochemistry Department. New curriculum and administrative procedures. Discussion of current demographics.

Additional Activities 37

Journal of Biological Chemistry (generates controversy while on editorial board). General Secretary, then President of International Union of Biochemistry. President's Scientific Advisory Committee. Sabbatical in New Zealand.

The Future of Molecular Biology 41

Impact of high technology. Hope for a chemical explanation of depression. Genetic engineering. Necessity of motivation.

Notes 45

Index 46

  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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