Oral history interview with Hubert N. Alyea

Oral history interview with Hubert N. Alyea

  • 1986-May-22 (First session)
  • 1986-May-30 (Second session)

Hubert Alyea was an internationally known popularizer of chemistry. His public demonstrations and academic lectures won him numerous awards and imparted the beauty of chemistry to his students and interested laypeople alike. Alyea contracted polio in 1923, during his senior year at Princeton University. His interview covers his diagnosis and treatment and mentions the effects of post-polio syndrome in his later years.

Place of interview
Original file type MP3, PDF
  • 245 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Related URL
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

Jeffrey L. Sturchio is president and CEO of the Global Health Council. Previously he served as vice president of corporate responsibility at Merck & Co., president of the Merck Company Foundation, and chairman of the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa. Sturchio is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Applied Economics and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Healthy Next Generation of the World Economic Forum. He received an AB in history from Princeton University and a PhD in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.

Physical location


Interviewee biographical information

  • October 10, 1903
  • Clifton, New Jersey, United States
  • October 19, 1996
  • Hightstown, New Jersey, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1925 Princeton University AB Chemistry
1926 Princeton University AM Chemistry
2016 Princeton University PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

General Electric Company

  • 1926 to 1927 American-Scandinavian Fellowship, Nobel Institute, Stockholm

Princeton University

  • 1927 to 1928 Proctor Fellow
  • 1930 to 1934 Instructor in Chemistry
  • 1934 to 1940 Assistant Professor
  • 1940 to 1954 Associate Professor
  • 1954 to 1972 Professor
  • 1972 to 1992 Professor Emeritus

University of Minnesota

  • 1928 to 1929 National Research Felow

Kaiser Wilhelm-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften

  • 1929 to 1930 International Research Fellow


Year(s) Award
1949 to 1950 Visiting Professor, University of Hawaii
1954 New Jersey Science Teachers Award
1957 New Jersey Education Citation
1958 Lecturer, International Exposition, Brussels
1962 Lecturer, International Exposition, Seattle
1964 Chemical Manufacturers Association Award
1967 Lecturer, International Exposition, Montreal
1970 Award in Chemical Education, American Chemical Society
1970 Honorary D. Sc. , Beaver College
1970 James Flack Norris Award, Northeast Section, American Chemical Society
1984 Priestley Award, Dickinson College
1991 Robert H. Carleton Award, National Science Teachers Association

Cite as

Alyea, Hubert N. (Hubert Newcombe), interviewed by Ronald E. Doel and Sturchio, Jeffrey L. (Jeffrey Louis) in Princeton, New Jersey on May 30, 1986. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0010. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/cf95jc49c.

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Begins with ALYEA: Over there is a book--I made this "Eminent Chemists" series, you may have seen it.

Keywords American Chemical Society (ACS) Chemical warfare Dulles, Allen Eminent Chemists series Gas school Goering, Hermann Wilhelm Merck & Company New Jersey Nuremburg trials Poison gas detectors Princeton, New Jersey Sabotage Second World War (WWII) Sharp & Dohme United States Army World War II (WWII)

Begins with STURCHIO: I thought we could start--we'd like to ask you a little bit about what got you interested in science first...

Keywords Alyea, Edwin Alyea, Ethan Asbestos Baskerville, Charles Brothers Carbon Clifton, New Jersey Curtman, Louis J. Duke University Fathers Home chemistry lab Johns Hopkins University Mutual Life Insurance Company Princeton University Qualitative analysis Smyth, Charles P. Sodium nitrate Sulfur Sunday school

Begins with ALYEA: Now, I'll jump ahead and tell you why I became a teacher.

Keywords American-Scandinavian Fellowship Arrhenius, Svante Frick Chemistry Laboratory Graduate school Great Depression Harvard University Nobel Institute for Physical Research Nobel Prize in Chemistry Princeton University Richards, Theodore W. Richards, William T. Sweden Taylor, Hugh S. Teaching

Begins with DOEL: Was your mother also ... ?

Keywords Alyea, Edwin Alyea, Ethan Amsterdam, The Netherlands Antioch College Back Bay Boston, Massachusetts Clifton, New Jersey Family history Fathers Football Handball Hawaii Johns Hopkins University Lovett, Robert Mann, Horace Mothers Polio Princeton Theological Seminary Roosevelt, Franklin D. Swimming Taylor, Hugh S.

Begins with STURCHIO: I wonder if we could go back to ask you some questions about the professors you had during your years at Princeton as an undergraduate.

Keywords Analytical chemistry Catalysis Electrochemistry Furman, N. Howell Hulett, George Inorganic chemistry Jones, W. Lauder Major, Randolph McCay, LeRoy Menzies, Alan Physical chemistry Taylor, Hugh S. Turkevich, John Wallis, Everett

Begins with ALYEA: [McCay] studied with Bunsen--Robert Bunsen--in Heidelburg,and everybody knew it.

Keywords Analytical chemistry Beryllium Bunsen, Robert Butter Freiburg School of Mines Gallium Glucinium Margarine McCay, LeRoy Mineralogy Winkler, Clemens A.

Begins with STURCHIO: How about--before we get to Taylor, who we want to talk about a good deal, there were also...

Keywords Alkaloids Beatty, Harold Berlin, Germany Catalysis Dougherty, Gregg First World War (WWI) Frick Chemistry Laboratory Frick, Henry Clay Grand Canyon Hibben, John G. Jones, W. Lauder Natural products Pacsu, Eugene Sugar chemistry Taylor, Hugh S. Wallis, Everett

Begins with ALYEA: Now that takes care of until we get to Sweden.

Keywords Arrhenius, Svante Backström, Hans L.J. Haber, Fritz Mercaptan Nobel Institute for Physical Research Nobel laureates Nobel Prize Northern lights Pauling, Linus Prohibition Stockholm, Sweden

Begins with ALYEA: Now the second one was Fritz Haber.

Keywords Ammonium nitrate Apatite Arrhenius, Svante Belgium Berlin, Germany Black Friday bromine lachrymators Chemical warfare Chiang Kai-Shek chlorine gas Cyanide Explosives Eyring, Henry Farkas, Adalbert Farkas, Lasoslas First World War (WWI) Franck, James Freundlick, Herbert gas warfare Haber, Fritz Haber-Bosch process Halifax explosion Harteck, Paul Hitler, Adolf Kaiser Wilhelm Institute Kistler, Samuel S. Korean War Ladenburg, Kurt Lind, Samuel C. MacDougel, Henry Nernst's third law Nernst, Walther North Korea Oppau, Germany Phosphorus Polanyi, Michael Second World War Smith, Lee I. South Korea Stock market crash Suicide Taiwan Taylor, Hugh S. tear gas Texas City explosion University of Minnesota Wigner, Eugene World War I (WWI) World War II Ypres, Frances

Begins with ALYEA: Well, this is an entirely different story.

Keywords Bodenstein, Max Bohr, Niels Chess Curie, Marie Dirac, Paul Einstein, Albert Hoyle, Fred Kaiser Wilhelm Institute Mathematics Max Planck Institute Meredith, Burgess Music Nobel laureates Planck's constant Planck, Max Princeton University Robertson, Howard P. Science communication Taylor, Hugh S. Unified field theory Von Neumann, John Wheeler, John Wigner, Eugene

Begins with ALYEA: Now, the second meeting in '48 was even more famous; this was the conception of the computer.

Keywords Black Plague Diodes Dirac, Paul ENIAC Forrestal Center Los Alamos National Laboratory Manhattan Project MANIAC Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Mechanical computers Nobel Prize Princeton University Robertson, Howard P. UNIVAC University of Pennsylvania Von Neumann, John

Begins with STURCHIO: Well, we should get on to your lecturing career.

Keywords Arsenic Foster, William Hawaii Home precepts Ihrig, Judd Industrial research Inventions McCay, LeRoy Mead, Brian Princeton University Slide projector Surface potentials Teaching University research

Begins with DOEL: In looking through the records, Princeton's--some of the science departments were attempting to begin cooperative research within the departments.

Keywords Biochemistry Biology Conklin, Edwin Grant Eyring, Henry Johnson, Frank Microscopes

Begins with STURCHIO: Your comment earlier about how your future in-laws wondered why you were going into teaching when a lot of people were going into industry was interesting, especially since I noticed that your fellow PhD's in 1928 all had industrial careers or government careers.

Keywords Baker, William Chemical industry Great Depression Morgan, Stanley Niederhauser, Wendell Plexiglas Princeton University Rohm & Haas Company Smyth, Charles P. Teaching

Begins with STURCHIO: Let's see. I wonder if we could talk to you a little about your time at Minnesota.

Keywords Analytical chemistry Chain reactions Chlorine Eyring, Henry Furman, N. Howell Kolthoff, Izaak M. Lind, Samuel C. Mathematics University of Minnesota Wigner, Eugene

Begins with DOEL: Edward Condon was out there for one year during that time.

Keywords Gurney, Ronald Wilfred Quantum mechanics

Begins with ALYEA: Now there's another story connected with Sputnik in the same plane where there was [Pyotr] Kapitza.

Keywords Chain reactions Gurney, Ronald Wilfred Kapitsa, Pyotr Leonidovich Khrushchev, Nikita S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Nobel Prize Petroleum Semyonov, Nikolay N. Sputnik Turkevich, John

Begins with STURCHIO: Was it after you were at Minnesota that you got married? It was 1929.

Keywords Alyea, Evelyn Coeducation Princeton University

Begins with ALYEA: LIFE came down and took pictures—

Keywords Alyea, Evelyn Churchill, Winston Dietrich, Marlene Frost, Arthur A. Green, Ted Ihrig, Judd Karsh, Yousuf LIFE magazine Northwestern University Polio

Begins with STURCHIO: You said that by, I guess by the mid 30s, you were spending more and more time on teaching—

Keywords Atom bomb Atomic energy Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Belgium Bethe, Hans A. Camden, New Jersey Condon, Edward Consulting Department of State (US) Fulbright scholars Hawaii Laboratory accidents New Haven, Connecticut New Jersey Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Princeton University Princeton, New Jersey Rochester, New York Second World War (WWII) Smyth, Charles P. Teaching UNESCO Wigner, Eugene World War II (WWII) World's fairs

Begins with STURCHIO: Well why not tell us about Wendell Wilkie—

Keywords Albion, Robert G. Luce, Clare Boothe Moses, Robert Nuclear power plants Princeton University Wilk, Edith Willkie, Philip H. Willkie, Wendell Willkie, Wendell L.

Begins with STURCHIO: Well, you wanted to tell us about Wood—

Keywords American Chemical Society (ACS) Bonhoeffer, Karl F. Deuterium Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands Glassblowing Harteck, Paul Heavy hydrogen Hydrogen Hydrogen bomb Langmuir, Irving Minneapolis, Minnesota Nobel Prize Urey, Harold C. Wood, Robert Williams

Begins with ALYEA: Now at that meeting was Bodenstein from the University of Berlin.

Keywords Arrhenius, Svante Avogadro's law Bodenstein, Max Debye, Peter J. W. Eyring, Henry Haber, Fritz Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Nernst's third law Nernst, Walther Taylor, Hugh S.

Keywords Alyea, Fred Atomic energy Einstein, Albert Eisenhart, Luther P. Haber, Fritz Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, N.J.) Kaiser Wilhelm Institute Princeton University Rahm, Barbara L. Scientific apparatus and instruments

Begins with ALYEA: When Eyring came and worked with Taylor a great deal in 32-33—

Keywords American Chemical Society (ACS) Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute Cavendish, Henry Columbia University Eyring, Henry Faraday Society Haber, Fritz Kaiser Wilhelm Institute Polanyi, Michael Princeton University Quantum mechanics Taylor, Hugh S. University of Hawaii Urey, Harold Wigner, Eugene

Begins with STURCHIO: Kistiakowsky was at Princeton for a couple of years then too—

Keywords Bodenstein, Max Dutton, Fred Eisenhower, Dwight D. Glassblowing Harvard University Ihrig, Judd Journal of chemical education Kistiakowsky, George B. Kistiakowsky, Vera Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Mead, Brian Moebius, Hildegard Nobel Institute for Physical Research Princeton University Second World War (WWII) University of Hawaii World War II (WWII)

Begins with ALYEA: Well, now we come to the tested overhead projection part of it—

Keywords American Revolution (1775-1783) Atomic energy Battle of Princeton (New Jersey: 1777) Belgium Century 21 Exposition Davy, Humphry, Sir Exposition universelle et internationale Faraday, Michael Henry, Joseph India Joseph Henry house (Princeton, N.J.) Journal of chemical education Kistiakowsky, George B. Maclean House (Princeton, N.J.) Maclean, John Morse, Samuel F. B. Nassau Hall (Princeton, N.J.) Projectors Rush, Benjamin Silliman, Benjamin Telegraph University of Edinburgh World's fairs

Begins with STURCHIO: One thing you started to tell us about last week was the work you did for the state of New Jersey with gas defense in World War Two—

Keywords Civil defense Engineering, Science, and Management War Training New Jersey Newark, New Jersey Princeton University Second World War (WWII) World War II (WWII)

Begins with STURCHIO: The only other thing that I wanted to ask you about or that I had in addition to anything else you'd like to tell us is—

Keywords Acropolis, Athens, Greece American Philosophical Society Ancient coins Archaeological chemistry Caley, Earle R. Consulting Dougherty, Gregg Electrochemical Society Eyring, Henry Fink, Colin Fink, Colin E. Furman, N. Howell Jones, W. Lauder LIFE magazine Organic chemistry Pacsu, Eugene Pease, Robert Physical chemistry Princeton University Smyth, Charles P. Taylor, Hugh S. Turkevich, John Wallis, Everett

Begins with ALYEA: How Princeton changed from 1920-1970

Keywords Alyea, Evelyn Coeducation Great Depression Postwar generation Princeton University Reserve Officers' Training Corps ROTC Second World War (WWII) World War II (WWII)

Begins with ALYEA: I didn't tell you about the absent-minded professor.

Keywords Alyea, Evelyn Alyea, Fred Belgium California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) Carroll College (Waukesha, Wis.) Disney, Walt Disneyland Exposition universelle et internationale Haver, June Hollywood, California Huntington Hotel (Pasadena, Calif.) MacMurray, Fred Princeton University Rheingold Beer Walt Disney Productions

Begins with ALYEA: Chemistry in the Far East.

Keywords Bangkok, Thailand Campbell, J. Arthur Chem. Bond Approach Chemical Education Material Study (Chem Study) Chulalongkorn University Communist countries Čhulālongkō̜nmahāwitthayālai East Asia Far East High school teachers Iron Curtain lands Mayberry, Richard Moscow, Russia Nuffield Study Strong, Leonard UNESCO

Begins with ALYEA: And I played the cello.

Keywords Anheuser-Busch brewery Banjo Club Cello Ferrer, José Logan, Joshua McCarter Theater (Princeton, N.J.) Music performance Pabst, Augie Princeton alumni Smith, Wally Stewart, James Stewart, Jimmy Triangle Club White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

PDF — 488 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

9 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads