Oral history interview with David M. Hercules

  • 2002-Mar-20

David M. Hercules begins his interview by discussing his childhood and education. He describes his youth in Somerset, Pennsylvania, and his childhood curiosity with science. When he was in high school, he continued to develop an interest in chemistry. Harold B. Brumbaugh and his chemistry teacher, William B. Howe, convinced him to attend Juniata College, a liberal arts school in central Pennsylvania which had a well renowned chemistry department. While at Juniata, he honed his interest in analytical chemistry. He was exposed to a few different types of spectroscopy at Juniata, and was able to attend tours of major academic and industrial labs in Pennsylvania and Delaware. He chose to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for graduate school, and selected Lockhart B. Rodgers as his graduate advisor. He did his thesis work about the emission spectra of naphthalene compounds. While at MIT, Hercules worked as a teaching assistant for Stephen G. Simpson. After graduation, Hercules decided to pursue an academic career. Hercules began his professional career at Lehigh University as an assistant professor. He describes how he built a spectrofluorometer at Lehigh and did research on photo-induced luminescence. When he worked at Lehigh, he had summer positions at United States Steel Corporation and Sun Oil Company. After three years at Lehigh, he returned to Juniata and conducted undergraduate research. He became an assistant professor at MIT after three years at Juniata. While at MIT, Hercules used a wide array of instrumentation, including one of the first ESCA (electron spectroscopy for chemical analysis) instruments. He corresponded and collaborated with Kai Siegbahn from Uppsala University in Sweden. Hercules used ESCA and XPS (x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy) to investigate a variety of phenomena, including heterogeneous catalysis. He also consulted for the Central Intelligence Agency, Instrumentation Laboratories, W. S. Merrill and Company, and Exxon Mobil Corporation. Hercules moved to the University of Georgia after six years at MIT. He then describes the position of analytical chemistry within the chemistry department and the variety of instrumentation that he was able to work with in Georgia. He continued to be interested in catalysis and attended a International Catalysis Society Meeting in Florida. After receiving a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, he was able to study at Northwestern University with Robert L. Burwell Jr. To continue his work on catalysis, Hercules moved to the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) after seven years in Georgia. He got to work with an impressive variety of instrumentation at Pitt, and consulted for W. S. Merrill and Exxon. He helped develop and establish the surface science center at Pitt, and helped recruit John T. Yates Jr. to be the head of it. He used many different types of instrumentation, including SIMS (secondary ion mass spectrometry), ion scattering spectroscopy, and Auger electron spectroscopy. At Pitt, he gained interest in mass spectroscopy and began to consult for Leybold-Heraeus. After that, Hercules worked with a LAMMA (laser microprobe mass analyzer) and the MALDI (matrix assisted laser desorption/ionization) process. He served as chair of the chemistry department for nine years and won the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung Prize. After nineteen years at Pitt, Hercules transitioned to working at Vanderbilt University. He describes the state of the Vanderbilt chemistry department and his place within it. To conclude, Hercules recounts his role in various conferences, including different Gordon Research Conferences (GRC), as well as the Asilomar Conference on Electron Spectroscopy and the Namur conference. He also recalls the funding of the GRC on electron spectroscopy. He ends the interview by reflecting on his current research on polymers using SIMS and MALDI and on the state of analytical chemistry today.

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