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Rudolph Marcus Oral History Interview with Shirley Cohen [sound recording]

An interview in three sessions in 1993 with Rudolph A. Marcus, Arthur Amos Noyes Professor of Chemistry at Caltech and Nobel laureate in chemistry, 1992, conducted by Shirley K. Cohen. Marcus recalls growing up in Montreal and Detroit, his undergraduate and graduate student days in chemistry at McGill University (BSc 1943, PhD 1946); Canadian anti-Semitism and quota on Jewish students; recollections of advisor Carl Winkler and other teachers Raymond Boyer, Otto Maass, and Bob McIntosh; fellow students Louis Nirenberg, Lazar Novak, Sam Epstein; research on chemical reaction rates. He then went to the National Research Council of Canada to do postdoctoral work under Edgar Steacie and Basil Darwent. Marcus discusses his interactions with Nathan Rosen and Wayne Bowers; the "Anomalies in Reaction Kinetics" 1951 symposium at the University of Minnesota where he first presented his work on the theory of unimolecular reactions (the RRKM theory); and his quest for a faculty appointment. In 1951 Marcus joined the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn faculty as assistant professor of chemistry. He recalls early experimental work there with gases, high-vacuum equipment, and rates of various chemical and photochemical reactions; his colleagues Herman Mark, Frank Collins, Paul Doty, Ernest Loebl, Herbert Morawetz, Bruno Zimm, and Paul Ewald; and his key paper in 1956 in electron transfer theory. Sabbatical year (1960-1961) spent at Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University; Dick Bernstein's role in Marcus's decision to wind down his experimental program around 1960; professor of chemistry at University of Illinois (1964-1978) and head, division of physical chemistry (1967-1968). Oxford and Munich sabbatical, 1975-1976. Consultant at Brookhaven National Laboratory and Norman Sutin's influence. Faculty years at Caltech (1978-present) and interactions with Harry Gray, Fred Anson, Jackie Barton, Ahmed Zewail, and other colleagues. Concludes the interview with his approach to theoretical research and getting students to focus on experimental phenomena; honors; post-Nobel life; opinions on "hype" and the role of chance in research.

ID: 1993-00073
Marcus, Rudolph Arthur (Chemist, Nobel Laureate)

Creation Dec. 1, 1993 through Dec. 14, 1993

MEDIUM: Sound recording; FORMAT: Sound cassette: analog; QUANTITY: 1 set (3 cassettes per set)

Topics: Chemistry, Nobel Prize

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