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Bruno H. Zimm

  • Born: October 31, 1920, Woodstock, New York
  • Died: November 26, 2005

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0055
Interview Date: September 9, 1986
Location: Anaheim, California
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 51
Minutes: 150

  Abstract of Interview

Bruno Zimm recalls growing up in Woodstock, New York and the influence of his father's interests in natural science. After briefly reviewing his schooldays and his developing fascination with science, Zimm describes his undergraduate and graduate studies at Columbia. During this section of the interview, he recalls faculty and curricula and describes the effect of World War II on the research activities at Columbia. In 1944, Zimm transferred to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute to work on a wartime project on the degradation of polyvinyl chloride. Herem he also first started his study of the theory and practice of the light scattering of polymer solutions, which he continued at the University of California, Berkeley. From there and after a one year sabbatical at Harvard, Zimm moved to the General Electric laboratories at Schenectady, where he further developed his studies of dynamic methods for the investigation of polymer solutions. A short time as a visiting professor at Yale rekindled his interests in biological polymers, especially DNA. At the new University of California, San Diego campus at La Jolla, Zimm continued instrumental research as well as his theoretical interests, which he briefly reviews. The interview closes with Zimm reflecting on the changes in polymer science over the duration of his career, and he comments on educational opportunities in this discipline.


1941 A.B., Chemistry, Columbia University
1943 M.S., Chemistry, Columbia University
1944 Ph.D., Chemistry, Columbia University

  Professional Experience

Columbia University

1941 - 1944 Teaching Assistant

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn

1944 - 1946 Research Assistant and Instructor

University of California, Berkeley

1946 - 1950 Assistant Professor of Chemistry

University of California, Berkeley

1950 - 1952 Associate Professor of Chemistry

General Electric Company

1951 - 1960 Research Associate

University of California, San Diego

1960 Professor of Chemistry


1957 Baekland Award, North Jersey Section, American Chemical Society
1958 Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences
1960 Bingham Medal, Society of Rheology
1963 High Polymer Physics Award, American Physical Society
1981 Chemical Sciences Award, National Academy of Sciences
1982 Kirkwood Medal, New Haven Section, American Chemical Society

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Growing up in an artistic family and a rural environment. Grade school, father's interests in natural science. High school and boarding school; development of scientific interests. Effects of the Depression.

University 7

Columbia, faculty and curricula. Graduate school, courses and teachers, effects of the war. Summer research on smoke screens. Graduate research, friendship with Doty.

Brooklyn and Berkeley 20

Wartime project at Brooklyn Polytechnic on the degradation of PVC films. Colleagues and faculty. Light scattering, experiment and theory. Move to Berkeley, expansion of light scattering work and initial interest in biological polymers. Critical point phenomena. Sabbatical year at Harvard.

General Electric 33

Atmosphere at General Electric laboratories, laboratory organization and colleagues. Research into dynamic methods for polymer solutions. Visiting professorship at Yale, work on DNA.

La Jolla 37

Appointment at the new campus at La Jolla. Setting up department and research school. Instrumental developments, dynamic viscoelasticity. Reflections on the changes in polymer science during career, on polymer science education and on textbooks.

Notes 45

Index 48

  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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