Middle Years

A Transition Within the Department

The history of the Chemistry Department during the thirty-five year period ending in 1975 is marked by major transitions, not only in the numbers of students seeking instruction in the subject, but especially in the tremendous increase in the level of sophistication required by the subject matter. This latter change is evident both in experimental chemistry, where the techniques and instrumentation have greatly multiplied, and in theoretical chemistry, where the explanations of structures and of reactions have extended far beyond anything imagined in 1940.

The growth in student enrollment in general chemistry courses is three-fold from about 800 in 1940 to 2,500 in 1975; enrollments in the total chemistry courses reached 5,000 in 1975. Since the number of undergraduate chemistry majors has never exceeded 75 in one year, it is evident that 97 percent of the freshman teaching is offered as a service to students enrolled in other departments and colleges. This high fraction of service teaching has extended into the sophomore year in recent years where more than 1,200 premedical students are registered in organic chemistry. The number of graduate-student teaching assistants needed to provide supervision for the first and second-year laboratory sections has become larger (about 100) than can be met by the chemistry graduate majors and it has become necessary to appoint an appreciable number of graduate students who have backgrounds in undergraduate chemistry but who are majoring in other fields.

The size of the regular academic staff doubled from 19 in 1940 to 38 in 1975. The competition among universities for good staff has led to the disappearance of the rank of instructor and, during this period, there has been an increase in tenured staff from 58 percent in 1940 to 84 percent in 1975. One result is that even after allowing for inflation the average staff member costs more now than in 1940. The problem of increased teaching and research facilities to accommodate more students and staff members is a perennial one. Immediately after the Second World War an addition to the then 30-year old building was constructed in an effort to catch up with the needs of that time. While the total space was doubled, the new addition had to provide for the College of Pharmacy and the Chemistry Stores as well as the Chemistry Department. Since the addition was occupied in 1948, the enrollment in chemistry has doubled and the department is still faced with the need to catch up.

The instrumentation required for undergraduate and graduate instruction and research has now extended well beyond the traditional test tubes, beakers, and flasks to include spectrophotometers, mass spectrometers, optical spectrometers reaching beyond both ends of the visible spectrum, spectrometers detecting magnetic resonance in atomic nuclei and in valence electrons, diffractometers for x-rays and for electrons, high vacuum equipment reaching into the 10-9 torr range, as well as a wide range of electronic circuitry. Need for the use of high-speed computer facilities falls in a special category both for recording and refining raw experimental data and for calculating the properties of theoretical models of structures and reactions. Because an acquaintance with these techniques is now expected in students exposed to chemical training, the costs per student have soared well beyond the increase due to the "normal" inflation factors and have made excellence in laboratory instruction one of the most difficult things to achieve in the physical sciences.

It is always difficult to single out individuals for particularly important contributions to teaching and research but any list of this period would have to include people like Werner Bachmann, Kasimir Fajans, Philip Elving, Richard Bernstein, Lawrence Brockway, Lawrence Bartell, Martin Stiles and Arthur Ashe. Their contributions have ranged widely from the first synthesis of a sex hormone through fundamental contributions to reaction dynamics and electron diffraction to the synthesis of a whole new class of compounds analogous to pyridine. In addition, the department maintained a consistently high standard of course instruction both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Finally, perhaps one of the most significant achievements of the department is that it managed to retain a coherent view of the rapidly changing field of chemistry, mainly by the fact of its never having split into well-defined internal subdivisions. This unity is now one of the most significant factors in the growth of its programs and its national recognition.