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Bolton Society Symposia: 2012 August

Named for Henry Carrington Bolton, the Bolton Society encourages and promotes the individual love for and collection of all types of printed material devoted to chemistry and related sciences.

Edgar Fahs Smith: bibliophiler, Author, Founder"

Organizers: Ned Heindel

Jim Bohning: A life in chemistry and history / Mary Ellen Bowden

Jim Bohning earned the respect of a wide range of people in the several social and intellectual circles in which he moved— from chemist-historians like himself to professional historians of chemistry; from Nobel Prize-winners and titans of the chemical industry to high school and college students, from editors wanting engaging stories to those demanding scholarly apparatus. Jim was ever generous in sharing his enthusiasms with others and in encouraging them in theirs. By reviewing some of his projects—the what, the why, and the how, we recall his energetic research practices and his dedication to communicating his findings as a raconteur, speaker, and writer.

Smith: An overview of his life / Vera V. Mainz

Edgar Fahs Smith was born of German parents in York, Pennsylvania in 1854, and died in 1928. Between those dates he lived an extraordinarily rich life. Smith studied at the University of Göttingen under Wöhler and Hübner, receiving his PhD in chemistry in 1876. His first teaching position was in the Towne Scientific School of the University of Pennsylvania as an assistant in analytical chemistry. Five years later, in 1888, he was appointed to the professorship of analytical chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. He directed and carried out many scientific investigations upon the methods of electrochemical analysis, on atomic weight determinations, on the rare metals and on the complex salts of inorganic acids. Prof. Smith served as the Provost of the University of Pennsylvania for many years and helped increase both the material and intellectual life of the university. Smith was also a prolific author on many topics. He was involved in many professional activities, including his work with the American Chemical Society. He helped mentor many chemists. All in all, he lived a life to be celebrated.

Edgar Fahs Smith as a book collector / Jeffrey L. Sturchio

One of the world's greatest collection of historical books of chemistry was assembled by Edgar Fahs Smith, chemist and provost of the University of Pennsylvania. How the collection was assembled and its contents will be discussed in this presentation.

Edgar Fahs Smith: Electrochemist / Gary D. Patterson

Edgar Fahs Smith was one of the most prolific electrochemists in the period 1879-1918. His monograph on “Electro-chemical Analysis” was first published in 1890 and went through 6 editions until 1918. He was a consummate experimentalist and subjected at least 20 metals to electrochemical analysis. He was a master of electrochemical separations. His most notable experimental advance was the development of the rotating anode method. And he was a popular thesis advisor and produced more than 30 Ph.Ds in electrochemistry alone, plus at least 30 additional doctorates in inorganic chemistry. Perhaps his most famous student was Joel Hildebrand. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1898. The present paper will survey Smith's contributions to electrochemistry.

"Beware! A Priestley has entered the land" / Ron Blatchley

Joseph Priestley reenactor Ronald Blatchley discusses excerpts from Edgar Fahs Smith's "Priestley in America" in a first-person presentation.

Father of two divisions: Edgar Fahs Smith and the birth of CHED and HIST / Roger A. Egolf

Both the Division of Chemical Education and the Division of the History of Chemistry owe their existence in large part to Edgar Fahs Smith. This paper will present the stories of the founding of both divisions, highlighting Smith's role in guiding them in their early years.

Edgar Fahs Smith as biographer and historian / Arthur Greenberg

Professor Edgar Fahs Smith wrote a number of brief but illuminating books focused on the lives of early chemists, more specifically on chemists who performed their research and teaching in America. Delightfully written, books such as Chemistry in America andOld Chemistries capture many biographies in capsule descriptions yet in broader contexts. Specific brief biographical books (e.g. Joseph Priestley, James Woodhouse, John Griscom) present details, chemical and personal, in a characteristically gentle and humorous style.

Characters in Chemistry

Organizers: Gary Patterson

Robert Bunsen's sweet tooth: Bunseniana in the Oesper Collections / William B. Jensen

The 19th-century German chemist, Robert Bunsen, certainly qualifies as a "chemical character" and is the subject of many surviving anecdotes, collectively known as "Bunseniana." The talk will review many of these anecdotes and their historical sources based on the rich resources of the Oesper Collections in the History of Chemistry of the University of Cincinnati, including several unique items inherited from former students of Bunsen.

Who was the real Joseph Black? / Robert G.W. Anderson

Joseph Black (1728-99) was professor of medicine and chemistry at the University of Edinburgh (early in his career he was at Glasgow). He chemically characterised fixed air (carbon dioxide) and developed the concept of latent heat - but up to now he has been known for little else. Now that a complete edition of his correspondence has been produced, gaps in his scientific career and his social life can be filled in. He taught students from throughout Great Britain, the rest of Europe (including Russia) and from North America. Some of these went on to establish medical schools. Acting as a consultant, he was influential in developing the chemical industry. He was one of a remarkable group of intelligentsia in Enlightenment Scotland: his friends included David Hume, Adam Smith, James Watt and James Hutton. He was a clubbable man and entertained generously at home. We even know the sort of gargantuan meals he served his guests (who may have included, on separate occasions, Dr Johnson and Benjamin Franklin).

Quaker rustic as natural philosopher: John Dalton and his social context / Alan J. Rocke

The founder of the atomic theory in chemistry, John Dalton (1766-1844), had a background and life history that was unlike most of his contemporary colleagues in the British scientific community; as an early biographer noted, the young Dalton was by all appearances "born to be a clodhopper." But appearances deceived. The speaker will characterize Dalton's modest Quaker north-country origins, and point to some connections of this background and culture to the nature of his scientific work.

Chemistry of Lucrezia Borgia, et al / Cathy L. Cobb

The alchemy of the European Middle Ages has always been an intriguing topic, but perhaps more for its folklore than the actual technology. This presentation will explore the possible chemical techniques and materials available to the notorious Borgia family and their ilk, and how this knowledge may have been deployed in their nefarious exploits.

Sir William Crookes (1832-1919) / William H. Brock

The figure of speech, "chemical character", means more than a chemist who played a role in the drama of chemistry; it refers to someone whose unusual personality and career marked them as out of the ordinary. We take the example of the English chemist William Crookes. His flamboyant bearded and mustached appearance was striking; his career from humble beginnings to the presidency of the Royal Society without academic or industrial tenure was unusual; to contemporaries Crookes's ability to investigate "anomalies" that led to fascinating revelations concerning cathode rays, the radiometer and ideas about the evolution of the matter and chemical elements made him seem a sage. A great science journalist and elder statesman of science who was active at the bench up until the day of his death, we shall find justification for calling him one of chemistry's most extraordinary characters.

It's a gas! Sir Humphrey Davy and his pneumatic investigations / Seth C. Rasmussen

Always a popular figure in the history of chemistry, the life and accomplishments of Sir Humphrey Davy are hard to ignore. Often styled a self-made chemist, he went on to achieve far more than most of the conventionally trained scientists of his time, including the isolation and identification of seven new chemical elements. However, what has always made him a true "Character in Chemistry" in my view was his early work with nitrous oxide and an unflinching willingness to make his own body a central aspect of experiments. In hindsight, it seems that his ability to survive his early pneumatic studies was more luck than insight, but early successes from these risky studies provided him the fame and recognition to build a career that would follow with even greater discoveries. The life and work of Davy will be presented, focusing on his early work with gases at Beddoes' Pneumatic Institution.

Robert Burns Woodward: Enough said / Jefffrey I. Seeman

[No abstract]

Fictional characters in chemistry / Carmen J. Giunta

Chemists are rarely the protagonists in works of popular fiction. Exceptions to the previous statement will be the subject of this presentation. Among the best known of these characters are three from the late 19th century: the world's first consulting detective (who developed a chemical test for blood) and experimenters whose concoctions caused dramatic changes in character and appearance. Earlier and later examples will also be presented. Some consideration will be given to genres in which science and scientists play important roles including science fiction, science-in-fiction (coined by Carl Djerassi), and lab lit (Jennifer Rohn).

Egor Egorovich Vagner (1849-1903): A "wondrously sharpwitted" chemist / David E. Lewis

Vagner (or Wagner in the German literature) was a true genius, and a true character. As a youngster, he was sent to school in western Russia, only to run away and return to his home at age 16. After qualifying to enter the university, he began studying law, only to start over again when he discovered chemistry. As a student, he was an active participant in the local amateur theater, a love that continued into his adult years. As a chemist, he developed a useful synthesis of alkylzinc reagents, turned potassium permanganate into a useful reagent for the site-specific oxidation of alkenes, first proposed the idea that rearrangements occurred during certain reactions of bicyclic monoterpenes, and proposed the first correct structures of many of the monocyclic and bicyclic monoterpenes. His designation in the title is due to Meerwein.

Martians as chemists and characters / Balazs Hargittai, Istvan Hargittai.

The “Martians” label originated from the time of the Manhattan Project and was used for the principal Hungarian participants in the defense of the United States in World War II and the Cold War. They included the aerodynamicist Theodore von Karman, the mathematician John von Neumann, and the physicists Eugene P. Wigner, Leo Szilard, and Edward Teller. Wigner, von Neumann, and Teller had their initial training in chemistry and chemical engineering. They made important contributions to chemistry, including the theory of specific heats of and atomic vibrations in crystals by von Karman (with Max Born), a method for isotope separation by Szilard (with Thomas Chalmers), the theoretical description of chemical reactions by Wigner (with E. Witmer), and Teller's Jahn-Teller effect and BET equation. The Martians made a unique group, and all five of them were the most original “characters."

George Rosenkranz: A full-range "chemical character" / James G. Traynham

A dictionary definition of "character" usually cites quite a range of traits. George Rosenkranz, associated with the production of The Pill from Mexican yams, is, indeed, a full-range character: An excellent, enterprising high-school student who fretted that he wouldbe accepted into the leading university in Hungary or Germany; a university student who supported his studies with unusual, non-chemistry employment and moved rewardingly among the international diplomatic set; a gifted organic chemist and an unorthodox research administrator; an impulsive romancer; a world-class bridge champion. This paper is based on an oral history interview of Rosenkranz conducted by the author in 1997 for the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Paul John Flory: Physical chemist and humanitarian / Gary D. Patterson

Paul John Flory received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1974 for his pioneering work in organizing and completing the field of the physical chemistry of macromolecules. He came from solid Midwestern roots to DuPont during the days of Wallace Carothers. He learned the importance of polymers there and applied his keen mind to the problem of polymer reaction kinetics and molecular weight distributions. He went on to solidify the theory of rubber elasticity during World War II. He established a workable theory of polymer solutions that is still used in industry today. After the War he actively pursued polymer science at Cornell and published his classic Principles of Polymer Chemistry. This book is still a valuable contribution to the state of the art in polymer science. Economic and professional uncertainty in the mid-50s led to the Directorship of the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh. A quick return to academia at Stanford University produced another rich harvest of polymer science and the long awaited Prize. Not content with merely scientific pursuits, he leveraged his notoriety to assist many scientists behind the iron curtain. He believed in freedom for chain molecules and for humans.