Oral history interview with Michael Szwarc

Oral history interview with Michael Szwarc

  • 1986-Sep-11
Photograph of Michael Szwarc
Photograph of Michael Szwarc, Science History Institute Collections, Photograph by Jim Bohning.

In this interview, Michael Szwarc begins with his early interest in science while growing up in Poland, leading to his studies at the Warsaw Polytechnic Institute. Szwarc next describes his experiences from 1935, when he emigrated to Israel, until his move to the University of Manchester in 1945. At Manchester, he worked in Michael Polanyi's physical chemistry group and first embarked on his studies on polymerization. A 1950s visit to the USA, involving many lecture trips, is described, as are the circumstances leading to his acceptance of a professorship at SUNY, Syracuse. Research on the methyl affinities of aromatic compounds led Szwarc to work with the naphthalene radical anion and, hence, to the development of the living polymers. The interview ends with Szwarc reviewing his later studies and his reflections on co-workers and associates.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 41 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute
Digitization funder
  • Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

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.

Physical location

Oral history number 0054

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • June 09, 1909
  • Bedzin, Poland
  • August 03, 2000
  • San Diego


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1932 Politechnika Warszawska Chemical Engineering
1942 Universiṭah ha-ʻIvrit bi-Yerushalayim PhD Organic Chemistry
1947 University of Manchester PhD Physical Chemistry
1949 University of Manchester DSc

Professional Experience

Universiṭah ha-ʻIvrit bi-Yerushalayim

  • 1934 to 1942 Assistant

University of Manchester

  • 1947 to 1952 Lecturer in Chemistry

State University College of Forestry at Syracuse University

  • 1952 to 1956 Professor of Physical and Polymer Chemistry
  • 1956 to 1964 Research Professor
  • 1964 to 1972 Distinguished Professor
  • 1967 to 1972 Director, Polymer Research Center

College of Environmental Science and Forestry

  • 1972 to 1980 Distinguished Professor
  • 1972 to 1980 Director, Polymer Research Center
  • 1980 to 1988 Emeritus Professor


Year(s) Award
1963 to 1964 Royal Society Visiting Professor, University of Liverpool
1966 Fellow of the Royal Society
1969 to 1970 Nobel Guest Professor, Uppsala University
1969 Award in Polymer Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1972 International Award, Plastics Science and Engineering
1972 Baker Lecturer, Cornell University
1974 Visiting Professor, Louvain University, Belgium
1974 Hononrary DSc, University of Louvain
1975 Honorary DSc, University of Uppsala
1976 Lemieux Lecturer, University of Ottawa
1978 Honorary DSc, Louis Pasteur University, Strasbourg, France
1978 to 1979 Visiting Professor, University of California, San Diego
1990 Polymer Division Award, American Chemical Society

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PDF — 490 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

7 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads