Beckman at 25: Jeremiah James

Jeremiah James.

2012 is the 25th anniversary of CHF’s Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry. To celebrate the Beckman Center’s remarkable achievements and its many accomplished fellows, we will be profiling one former fellow each month over the course of the year. This month we’d like you to meet Jeremiah James.

Jeremiah joined CHF in 2000-2001 as an Edelstein International Student, with a project titled “Linus Pauling and the Intellectual Genesis of the Nature of the Chemical Bond.” He was still a young graduate student at Harvard at the time, but had already decided to focus on Linus Pauling. Jeremiah’s research focused on the often neglected coherence of Pauling’s quantum chemistry (or bonding theory) and his more empirical research. Jeremiah writes that his time at CHF allowed him “the freedom to turn my then somewhat vague ideas into a clear research proposal.”

After completing the dissertation, Jeremiah went to the Fritz Haber Institute (FHI) in Berlin, where he received a post-doctoral fellowship as an in-house historian (along with Thomas Steinhauser, who, while not a CHF fellow himself, has several connections to CHF alumni). Jeremiah and Thomas were engaged in research around the Institute’s Centennial Project, which culminated in a lavish 100-year anniversary celebration and the release of the book 100 Years at the Intersection of Chemistry and Physics: The Fritz Haber Institute at the Max Planck Society, 1911-2011 (DeGrutyer, 2011).

This project gave Jeremiah the opportunity to further develop his ideas regarding the transformation of physical chemistry in the early 20th century from a discipline almost exclusively concerned with solution chemistry and thermodynamics to one that also included methods for the precise determination of 3-D molecular structure and (later) detailed reaction mechanisms. While at the Haber Institute, Jeremiah also attended regular meetings of the History of Quantum Theory Project, becoming an expert on aspects of quantum theory that overlapped with physical chemistry and quantum chemistry. As a result, when the Centennial Project was completed, Jeremiah was asked to stay on at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, as a part of their Quantum History Project. The Quantum History Project too is now wrapping up, but Jürgen Renn, its director, has offered Jeremiah the opportunity to stay on for an additional year, during which he can return to his work on Pauling and his collaborators at CalTech, with a much richer understanding of the international physical chemistry community in which they were embedded.

Successes have accrued for Jeremiah in his teaching as well as his research. He has earned awards for excellence in education both from Scientific American and from Harvard University (for his work as a teaching fellow), and he has spent summers teaching at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, all of which have helped to bring history of chemistry to the classroom. We value that love of teaching and ability to reach young and non-professional audiences in our fellows, and both for his research and his outreach, we are proud to call Jeremiah one of our own.

Carin Berkowitz is the associate director of CHF’s Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry.

Beckman at 25: Matthew Eisler [Periodic Tabloid]
Beckman at 25: Gabriele Ferrario and David Schleifer [Periodic Tabloid]

Posted In: Fellows

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