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Oral history interview with William G. McMillan

  • 1992-Mar-25

Oral history interview with William G. McMillan

  • 1992-Mar-25

William McMillan begins this interview with a discussion of his parents and youth in Montebello, California. The youngest of seven siblings, McMillan expressed an interest in science at an early age. He attended Montebello High School, where he was greatly influenced by his chemistry teacher, Leon Broock. After graduation, McMillan entered UCLA, receiving his B.A. in chemistry in 1941. Afterward, he attended Columbia University and earned his M.S. in chemistry in 1943 and his Ph.D. in chemical physics in 1945. While working towards his Ph.D. degree, McMillan was employed in the Special Alloys and Materials Project, a forerunner to the Manhattan Project. While a post-doc at the University of Chicago, McMillan worked under Edward Teller. In 1947, McMillan joined the faculty of UCLA as an assistant professor of chemistry and remains there today as Professor Emeritus. He became chairman of UCLA's chemistry department in 1959 and worked to implement more student programs and offices at the university. During his tenure at UCLA, McMillan also worked for RAND Corporation as a consultant to the U.S. military. He helped form the Group on Weapons Effects, which later became the SAGE Advisory that reported on weapons tests. McMillan also worked with the Armed Forces in Vietnam, developing concepts for artillery and military reconnaissance. After contracting hepatitis in Vietnam, McMillan researched the disease and developed a blood chemistry analysis. Some of his personal research projects have included: global warming and ozone depletion issues; atmospheric studies of Venus; and Neutrinos work. In 1971, McMillan developed his own consulting company, McMillan Science Associates. He concludes the interview with thoughts on the future of the military and defense budget, and an expository analysis of the structure of electrons.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 95 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0104

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • October 19, 1919
  • Montebello, California, United States
  • November 25, 2002
  • Los Angeles


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 University of California, Los Angeles BA Chemistry
1943 Columbia University MS Chemistry
1945 Columbia University PhD Chemical Physics

Professional Experience

Columbia University

  • 1941 to 1944 Teaching Assistant
  • 1944 to 1946 Research Assistant, Manhattan Project
  • 1949 Visiting Professor

University of California, Los Angeles

  • 1947 to 1951 Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry
  • 1951 to 1958 Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry
  • 1959 to 1990 Professor, Department of Chemistry
  • 1959 to 1965 Chairman, Department of Chemistry
  • 1990 to 1993 Professor Emeritus

Harvard University

  • 1951 to 1952 Carothers Visting Lecturer

Rand Corporation

  • 1954 to 1971 Senior Physicist

United States. Department of Defense

  • 1966 to 1968 Science Advisor to Commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam

McMillan Science Associates

  • 1971 to 1993 President


Year(s) Award
1938 Lena De Groff Scholarship, UCLA
1938 Pi Mu Epsilon (mathematics)
1939 Paramount Pictures Scholarship, UCLA
1940 Phi Lambda Upsilon, (chemistry), UCLA
1940 Phi Beta Kappa, UCLA
1942 Sigma Xi, Columbia University
1946 to 1947 Guggenheim Fellow, University of Chicago, Institute for Nuclear Studies
1957 to 1961 Alfred P. Sloan Fellow
1968 Distinguished Civilian Service Award, U. S. Department of the Army
1969 Distinguished Public Service Award, U. S. Department of Defense
1969 Knight of the National Order of Vietnam
1970 Exceptional Civilian Service Award, U. S. Department of the Air Force
1984 Exceptional Civilian Service Award, U. S. Department of the Air Force

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PDF — 466 KB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

12 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads