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Interview with Norman R. Davidson

Davidson, Norman R. (2012) Interview with Norman R. Davidson. [Oral History]

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An interview in three sessions, August and September 1987, with Norman R. Davidson, Chandler Professor of Chemical Biology, emeritus, in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. He received his BS (1937) and PhD (1941) from the University of Chicago and a BSc from the University of Oxford (1938). He came to Caltech as an instructor in 1946, becoming a full professor in 1957 and Chandler Professor in 1982. He recalls growing up in Hyde Park, Chicago; his years at the university; his Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. Discusses his wartime work: with Anton Burg at USC; recruitment by Harold Urey for uranium isotope separation at Columbia; stint at University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory on the plutonium project under Glenn Seaborg. Postwar move to RCA Labs, Princeton, working on electron microscopy with James Hillier. Recalls the chemistry division, Linus Pauling, and Robert A. Millikan, among others, during his early years at Caltech. His interest in organometallic chemistry, gas-phase reaction mechanisms, formation of complex ions in solution. Recalls serving on the Freshman Admissions Committee; designing flash-lamp photodissociation apparatus; work on dissociation by shock tubes with grad student Tucker Carrington. Growing interest in molecular biology; attending 1958 NIH biophysics conference, Boulder, CO; the evolution of chemical biology. Discusses work of 1968 presidential search committee and Harold Brown’s selection; advocacy of an enriched humanities curriculum; his support for proposed affiliation with Immaculate Heart College. Recalls three of his outstanding postdocs/graduate students: James C. Wang, Phillip A. Sharp, Ronald W. Davis. Offers his views on Linus Pauling in an appendix.

Item Type:Oral History
Keywords:Chemistry, chemical biology
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_Davidson_N
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Davidson, Norman R. Interview by Heidi Aspaturian. Pasadena, California, August 17, and 19, September 3, 1987. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives. Retrieved [supply date of retrieval] from the World Wide Web:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
Subjects:Subjects > Chemistry
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Subjects > Biology
ID Code:205
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:21 Sep 2012 17:12
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:23

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