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Oral history interview with James N. Shoolery

  • 2002-Jan-18

Oral history interview with James N. Shoolery

  • 2002-Jan-18

James N. Shoolery begins the interview by discussing his family background and growing up during the Depression. His interest in chemistry began in his childhood and grew further during his undergraduate years at the .S., chemistry, University of California at Berkeleyof California, Berkeley. His education was interrupted by World War II, during which he served in the U.S. Navy as a radar technician in the South China Sea. Upon his return to the United States, Shoolery toyed with the idea of pursuing electrical engineering because of his experiences in the Navy, but he ultimately decided against it. Shoolery decided to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology and worked under Don M. Yost on microwave spectroscopy. After visiting an electronics show in Los Angeles, California, and seeing their exhibit, Shoolery wrote to Varian Associates, Inc. about the possibility of his coming to work there on applications for nuclear magnetic resonance. He joined Varian Associates, Inc. in 1952 and spent nearly forty years working there. Shoolery shares his impressions of Varian Associates, Inc., its management, its products, and his pride in having been able to follow the development of NMR for such an extended period of time. Shoolery concludes the interview with a discussion of his life outside of Varian and shares some final thoughts about his career.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 67 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 Interviewers

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.

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0230

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • June 25, 1925
  • Worland, Wyoming, United States
  • September 24, 2015
  • Half Moon Bay, California, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1948 University of California, Berkeley BS Chemistry
1952 California Institute of Technology PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Varian Associates

  • 1952 to 1962 Director, Applications Laboratory
  • 1962 to 1969 Marketing Manager, Analytical Instruments Division
  • 1972 to 1990 Senior Application Chemist


  • 1969 to 1972 Independent Consultant
  • 1990 to 2004 Independent Consultant


Year(s) Award
1964 Sargent Award
1965 Award in Chemical Instrumentation, American Chemical Society, Division of Analytical Chemistry
1982 Anachem Award, Federation of Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies

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PDF — 433 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

10 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads