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Oral history interview with David M. Hercules

  • 2002-Mar-20

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.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 50 pages
  • 03:30:00
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewers

Arthur Daemmrich is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School and a senior research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. His research examines science, medicine, and the state, with a focus on advancing theories of risk and regulation through empirical research on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical sectors. At HBS he also plays an active role in an interdisciplinary Healthcare Initiative, advancing scholarship and developing applied lessons for the business of creating and delivering health services and health-related technologies. Daemmrich was previously the director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He earned a PhD in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University in 2002 and has held fellowships at the Social Science Research Council/Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has published widely on pharmaceutical and chemical regulation, biotechnology business and policy, innovation, and history of science.

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0241

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • August 10, 1932
  • Somerset, Pennsylvania, United States
  • January 20, 2024
  • Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1954 Juniata College (Huntingdon, Pa.) BS Chemistry
1957 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD Analytical Chemistry

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • 1954 to 1957 Assistant, Department of Chemistry
  • 1963 to 1968 Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry
  • 1968 to 1969 Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry

Lehigh University

  • 1957 to 1960 Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry

Juniata College (Huntingdon, Pa.)

  • 1960 to 1963 Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry

University of Georgia

  • 1969 to 1974 Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry
  • 1974 to 1976 Professor, Department of Chemistry

University of Pittsburgh

  • 1976 to 1995 Professor, Department of Chemistry
  • 1980 to 1989 Chairman, Department of Chemistry

Vanderbilt University

  • 1995 Centennial Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry
  • 1995 Chairman, Department of Chemistry
  • 1998 to 1999 Assistant to the Provost


Year(s) Award
1974 Fellow, Guggenheim Foundation
1981 Lester W. Strock Medal, Society for Applied Spectroscopy
1983 Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung Prize
1986 Fisher Award in Analytical Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1987 Benedetti-Pichler Award, American Microchemical Society
1989 Eastern Analytical Symposium Award
1993 Adamson Award in Surface Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1996 Pittsburgh Spectroscopy Award, Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy
1997 Award, Americal Chemical Society, Pittsburgh Section

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PDF — 1.3 MB

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

6 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads