Chemistry and Chemical Biology Oral History Project

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This is a collection of videos recording original interviews with faculty in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology: Simon Bauer, Don Cooke, Roald Hoffmann, Fred McLafferty and Harold Scheraga.

For more details go to the Oral History Project.

This is provided by Internet-First University Press which will make DVD's and streaming videos available at


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Now showing 1 - 10 of 23
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    A Conversation with Dave Collum
    Collum, David B.; Ganem, Bruce (Internet-First University Press, 2014-12-16)
    David B. Collum, the Betty R. Miller Professor of Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, describes his unusual entry into chemistry while an undergraduate at Cornell University, a exciting experience in graduate school at Columbia University, and his movement from organic synthesis to physical organometallic chemistry in his early days as an assistant professor at Cornell. The interviewer and former mentor, Professor Bruce Ganem, wander through life at Cornell, the temperament of the department, life as department chairman, and emerging interests in political economics.
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    A Conversation with Barbara Baird and David Holowka
    Baird, Barbara A.; Holowka, David A. (Internet-First University Press, 2014-12-16)
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    Jerrold Meinwald wins National Medal of Science
    Ju, Anne (Cornell University, 2014-10-03)
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    Roald Hoffmann Symposium Concert
    Hoffmann, Roald (Internet-First University Press, 2014-07-21)
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    A Conversation with David Usher
    Usher, David A.; Ganem, Bruce (Internet-First University Press, 2012-11-10)
    David Anthony Usher was born in Harrow in the UK on November 1st, 1936, and emigrated with his family to Wellington, New Zealand in 1948. After a year at Wellesley College in Days Bay he became a boarder in Grey House at Wanganui Collegiate School. He attended Victoria University of Wellington where he received a BSc (1958) and MSc with First Class Honours (1960). He then moved to Cambridge, England, where he received a PhD in Chemistry, working with D. M. Brown. After two year’s postdoctoral at Harvard University with Frank Westheimer, he joined the faculty at Cornell University in the Department of Chemistry where he has remained ever since. His early work was on the mechanism of the enzyme ribonuclease, where he identified two possible geometries for the reaction, in-line or adjacent. In subsequent work he showed that the mechanism was in-line for both steps. This work led to a prediction that if RNA were 2’,5’-linked, instead of 3’,5’-linked as it is in nature, it would hydrolyze more rapidly when it was part of a double helix. By contrast, he predicted that 3’,5’-linked RNA would be stabilized by becoming part of a double helix. Later work in the Usher laboratory showed that this prediction was correct. In addition, this work suggested a possible mechanism for the formation of RNA under prebiotic conditions. Usher was one of the first to see the potential for what has become known as antisense technology, and developed a novel amide-linked oligonucleotide analog. In more recent years, Dr Usher has turned his attention to possible mechanisms for the prebiotic formation of the peptide bond using novel oligonucleotide templates, as a model for the origin of protein synthesis. His interest in the Origin of Life is broad, and includes collaborative research with Jonathan Lunine of Cornell’s Department of Space Sciences, investigating possible chemical evolution on Saturn’s moon Titan. In addition to his research activities in chemistry, Usher has appeared as the tenor lead in thirteen Gilbert and Sullivan shows that were mounted by the Cornell Savoyards. He has a national ranking in the top 20 in tennis doubles in his age group. With his partner Dale Wise, he won the gold medal for tennis doubles in his age group at the 2013 National Senior Games in Cleveland.
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    A Conversation with Ben Widom
    Widom, Ben; Meinwald, Jerrold (Internet-First University Press, 2012-11-13)
    Benjamin Widom, Professor of Chemistry emeritus, sketches his career in science starting from his years in Stuyvesant High School in New York City, followed by his undergraduate years at Columbia University, then as a Ph.D. student with Simon Bauer at Cornell followed by his time as a postdoctoral associate with O. K. Rice at the University of North Carolina, and finally his return to Cornell as a member of the Chemistry faculty. Although he then never left his position at Cornell, he took advantage of leaves on many occasions to work and study in The Netherlands, England, and France. He is interviewed by his close contemporary Jerrold Meinwald.
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    A Conversation with Héctor D. Abruña
    Abruña, Héctor D.; DiSalvo, Francis J (Internet-First University Press, 2012-11-13)
    “A Conversation with Héctor D. Abruña” is a contribution from the Oral History Project of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. Héctor D. Abruña (known to his friends as Tito; which derives from the diminutive of his first name in Spanish “Hectitor”), the Emile M. Chamot Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Cornell is interviewed by his long-time friend and colleague, Prof. Frank DiSalvo, the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science and Director of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. This wide-ranging conversation, between two long-time friends, colleagues and collaborators, explores the influences from Tito’s early childhood, growing up in Puerto Rico, the people who inspired and encouraged him to pursue a career in science and how, through a series of less than direct turns, he came to Cornell in 1983. It also describes the evolution of fuel cell and battery research, starting with a joint project and the Cornell Fuel Cell Institute, to the current Energy Materials Center at Cornell (emc2). It also describes his years as Chair of the department (2004-2008) and how the Department has changed through the past three decades.
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    A Conversation with James M. Burlitch
    Burlitch, James M.; Fay, Robert C. (Internet-First University Press, 2012-11-27)
    James Burlitch, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology describes his early interest in science and Nature, his liberal arts education at Wheeling College in Wheeling, WV, and PhD degree in inorganic chemistry at MIT. At Cornell, his teaching concentrated on laboratory instruction in synthesis and analysis. Research explored the synthesis of organometallic compounds with bonds between main-group and transition elements and subsequently the preparation of novel inorganic materials. He guided the Department’s building projects in laboratory design and renovation. Fine-art photography is the main outlet for his creativity in retirement. The interview was conducted by long-time colleague, Professor Robert Fay. Running time: 70 minutes
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    A Conversation with Robert C. Fay
    Fay, Robert C.; Hoffmann, Roald (Interviewer) (Internet-First University Press, 2012-11-27)
    Robert C. Fay, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, describes the development of his interest in chemistry, his undergraduate education at Oberlin College, and graduate studies in inorganic chemistry at the University of Illinois. He discusses coming to Cornell in 1962, his NMR research on the stereochemistry and molecular rearrangements of metal chelate compounds, and x-ray crystallographic studies of their structures. He also recounts his early teaching experiences, including teaching general chemistry, learning group theory and teaching our department’s first course in that subject, and developing an advanced inorganic chemistry laboratory course. For the past 25 years, Fay has been engaged with his colleague John McMurry in writing successful general chemistry textbooks. He discusses various aspects of textbook writing in some detail. On another subject, Fay is asked about his Christian faith and the relationship between science and religion. The interview, conducted on November 27, 2012 by Roald Hoffmann, Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters Emeritus, concludes with Fay’s comments on why Cornell is such a wonderful place to teach and do research.
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    A Conversation with Charles F. Wilcox, Jr.
    Wilcox, Charles F. Jr. (Internet-First University Press, 2012-09-08)
    Charles Wilcox, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, relates his youthful introduction to chemistry and the path that led through MIT, UCLA, and Harvard to a faculty position at Cornell. He explains how he was drawn to Physical Organic Chemistry because of its unique blend of experimental and theoretical organic chemistry. The background to his research themes is discussed along with the key results, and their significance. Also presented is the teaching side of his career and his contributions to the department. The interview was conducted by his longtime friend and colleague, Professor Emeritus Jerrold Meinwald. Running time: 64 minutes.