00:01:00[Introduction to the interview]
HEITMANN: I'm with Dr. Francis O. Rice in South Bend, Indiana. I'm going to
00:02:00interview him today in his office and tomorrow at his home. Dr. Rice, I know
that you were born in 1890 in Liverpool.
00:03:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
Who were your parents and did you have brothers and sisters?
00:05:00RICE: I come of Irish stock. My father was born in the north of Ireland; my
mother was born in the south of Ireland. They met in Liverpool where I was born
and educated. As far as I'm concerned I'm English. My father's people were
farmers in Ireland. Due to troubled times there they emigrated, as did my
father. He had some job on the railway in Liverpool. After he retired my parents
moved to the north of Ireland.
HEITMANN: Was he educated in a university?
00:06:00RICE: He had very little education. He recognized that I had an interest in
chemistry, however, and he did all that he could to encourage me to study it. He
even allowed me to have a laboratory in our home when I was a boy. It's now
almost a century since those days and I have no memory at all of what I did
there. I doubt it was anything of any importance at all.
00:07:00HEITMANN: Did your mother also encourage you to do chemistry?
RICE: No, I have no recollection that she had any knowledge of it.
HEITMANN: Do you have brothers and sisters?
RICE: I was the eldest in the family. I have a younger brother if he's alive.
I've lost touch with him. His inclination was towards mathematics. He taught
00:08:00mathematics in a high school in Manchester. I also have two sisters. One is
married and one is not. They live in our home, or what was our home, in Ireland.
HEITMANN: Where in Ireland?
RICE: About six miles south of Armagh which is the capital of Northern Ireland,
00:09:00I think. It's a historic little town. Our home was right on the border between
Ulster and the Free State, although technically in Ulster. I think I have a
picture someplace of the house.
HEITMANN: How did you get interested in chemistry at such an early age? Were
there any magazines that you read or was it just the times?
RICE: I simply don't remember. In the high school we had a course in chemistry
00:10:00taught by a man named Udall. I was a prize student.
HEITMANN: This was in Liverpool?
RICE: In Liverpool.
00:11:00HEITMANN: We talked about your home laboratory a bit and how your father
RICE: My family are farming stock and the only thing I remember at all of any
kind of gift in my family was my father's work with a machine. A neighbor bought
00:12:00it. It was for cereal.
HEITMANN: A kind of mill?
RICE: Yes. Cereal came out at one end and waste at the other. No one could get
it to function until my father worked on it. That's the only thing I remember.
00:13:00Apparently I did inherit something of that.
HEITMANN: You did all your studies at the University of Liverpool. Is there any
reason why you chose to go to Liverpool?
RICE: Well, in England there were two major universities, Oxford and Cambridge.
There were also four northern universities: Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool,and
Sheffield. Since I lived in Liverpool and the university was in the town, I went
00:14:00to Liverpool. I remember looking at the papers one morning on the way to school
to see which of them made the most telling statement about a great piece of
news. I decided that the Liverpool Mercury had. The statement was, "Titanic
Founders with 1800 Souls"--nothing more than that.
HEITMANN: Who was your chemistry professor at Liverpool?
RICE: I think E. Baly, in spectroscopy, was my major professor. A man by the
00:15:00name of Henry Bassett was also there, as was F. G. Donnan.
HEITMANN: What type of research did you do there?
RICE: Oh dear, I don't remember.
HEITMANN: Do you have any other memories of Liverpool?
RICE: I won a scholarship to Liverpool and at that time I had no doubts that I
00:16:00wanted to go into chemistry. Of course I got my B.S. degree, my M.S. degree, and
my D.Sc. in chemistry. At that time the D.Sc. was a higher degree in the
sciences than the Ph.D. You had to distinguish yourself in science to be granted it.
HEITMANN: I guess World War I started right when you were in graduate school.
RICE: I was really fortunate that a good deal of the research that I had done
was on TNT.
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HEITMANN: It must have been about 1916 when you started this work.
RICE: No. I did the work at the university after the outbreak of war in 1914. I
had to do a lot of travelling. At that time I went down to London and went into
Officer's Training School. Before I was called for active duty a famous
physicist was shot at the front and the British Government suddenly realized
that, as they put it, they could not afford to use their scientists as cannon
fodder. Accordingly, I was assigned to the Ministry of Munitions in 1916. They
00:18:00had to build plants and I was sent round to be a chemical advisor because a good
deal of my earlier research was on TNT. I knew a good deal about it. People
think of it as a very dangerous thing. It's not a dangerous substance at all,
except under special circumstances.
HEITMANN: You became a theoretical chemist, but you had some very practical experience.
00:19:00RICE: Oh yes. In the war. I worked on explosives.
HEITMANN: Did you do any designing of machinery and apparatus?
RICE: No, that was more of an engineering thing. The engineers, you see, were
HEITMANN: And you were involved in managing.
RICE: Yes, rather soon I became the manager of H. M. Factory Bradley.
HEITMANN: This was in Liverpool?
RICE: That was in Yorkshire.
00:20:00HEITMANN: Well, when World War I ended you came to this country.
RICE: In 1914 I had won a very valuable travelling fellowship. It's called "The
1851 Fellowship." I still have a letter from Professor Rubens from somewhere in
Germany saying that he would be delighted to receive me as a student. By great
good luck I had not gone to Germany before the war broke out. At the end of the
war I therefore still had my travelling fellowship. Understandably, a beaten and
impoverished Germany was no longer the place to go for postdoctoral study. Hugh
00:21:00Taylor, a fellow student who had gone to the U.S., said, "Why don't you come to
the U.S. on your fellowship." I did.
Residents of both countries speak English, although sometimes the words have
different meanings. At Princeton I once wanted a particularly long kind of a
screwdriver and I wanted to know where an ironmonger shop was. Nobody had ever
heard of such a thing. What I had wanted was a hardware store. If you ever go to
00:22:00England don't go talking about a hardware store. You want an ironmonger shop.
HEITMANN: Can you remember your first impressions of this country? I know it's
00:23:00RICE: Yes. 1919 is long ago! I went to Princeton because Hugh Taylor was a
personal friend of mine. He was on the faculty at Princeton. The Princeton
chemistry department was not very strong at that time.
HEITMANN: What were Taylor's research interests?
RICE: He was a physical chemist interested in how fast a reaction went and how
00:24:00it was affected by the changing temperature. The speed of reaction varies very
markedly with increasing temperature and I was interested in knowing whether
accurate measurements of the speed of a reaction could be duplicated elsewhere
provided the temperature was the same. This proved true. I was one of the first
people to prove that.
00:25:00HEITMANN: You were at a critical juncture when physical chemistry became joined
with organic chemistry.
RICE: We called it physical organic chemistry. Chemistry was divided at that
time among people who hardly knew each other, organic chemists and physical
chemists. Organic chemistry was not physical chemistry. That is no longer the
case at all.
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HEITMANN: So you went to New York University in 1920.
RICE: Yes, in 1920, when NYU offered me an instructorship. A year after that I
was made an assistant professor at NYU.
HEITMANN: You stayed there for four years.
RICE: That's right and those were very happy years. The head of the department
00:28:00at the time was a man named Arthur E. Hill. He wasn't an elected head; he was
appointed head of the department. But he was a very fair-minded man. For
example, when a student went to him to ask his advice about choosing a doctoral
thesis topic, he would ask the student what he was interested in. Usually the
heads of departments took most of the students, but Hill didn't do that. He
divided up the students with the men in his department. Much of my early
research on measuring speeds of reactions was done at NYU. It gave me an
opportunity to go to Hopkins, which was, of course, an advancement.
HEITMANN: Do you remember any of that early work?
00:29:00RICE: All of the work I did there had to do with precise measurements of
reaction rates. There were good people there. I remember Kilpatrick who was a
student of mine, and a man named Scott Lemkin who became a teacher of chemistry
at a high school. His name is probably not in the American Men of Science, but
that was in the early days.
00:30:00HEITMANN: What courses did you teach?
RICE: Ten or twelve hours of teaching is a pretty heavy load. Most people want a
light teaching load, but I had a ten or twelve hour teaching load in New York
University. Hopkins made this offer to me and my teaching load was too high. You
00:31:00may say, ten hours, what do you do with the rest of your time? Well, it's at
least an hour of preparation for each teaching hour. Then you've got to discuss
problems with your students; that's another two or three hours a day. So, if you
have a schedule of ten hours a week, you've got nearly a forty hour week. You're
kept pretty busy. At Hopkins I came ultimately to have only two hours of
teaching per week.
HEITMANN: Who was the department chairman? Do you remember?
RICE: J. C. W. Frazer was then the department chairman at Hopkins.
HEITMANN: Was he a physical chemist?
RICE: Yes, I would call him a physical chemist. W. A. Patrick was there. Of
course, he made a lot of money with his . . .
00:32:00HEITMANN: We'll get back to him. Was Emmet Reid there?
RICE: Emmet Reid.
HEITMANN: Was Paul Emmett there? He may have come later.
RICE: I remember the name, Paul Emmett.
HEITMANN: Well, it's not important.
RICE: Hopkins in the very early days was essentially a graduate school.
HEITMANN: It still is, although not as much.
RICE: Not as much. It gives bachelor degrees now, and there's a considerable
00:33:00college as well as the university proper. I had no connection at all with
undergraduates. I taught for two hours and then advised research students. All
the remaining time was mine for my research. I was at Hopkins for . . .
HEITMANN: Fourteen years.
RICE: Fourteen years. 1924-1938.
HEITMANN: What did you teach in the two hours? Did you teach a course in kinetics?
00:34:00RICE: Well, essentially some kinetics of reactions. When you taught only two
00:35:00hours in your own field you had hardly anything to prepare. So, I was free to do
research work and see students. I didn't leave Hopkins and go to Catholic
University because I was overworked; rather, I was lured by the salary, which
00:36:00was unheard of at that time, seven thousand dollars per year. My monthly salary
at Hopkins had been two hundred and forty dollars which, of course, had to be
augmented with consulting work.
HEITMANN: Going back to Hopkins. Did the faculty have a sense that it was the
great department of chemistry in this country? Did you all have a sense that it
00:37:00was falling from the top rank during your period? Do you think it was still one
of the great universities in chemistry?
RICE: Yes, oh yes. The reputation of Johns Hopkins. Actually, I should have
stayed at New York University. But the name of Hopkins attracted me.
HEITMANN: Going back to the early work you did at Hopkins; it was on reaction rates.
HEITMANN: One of the things I was wondering about was whether the first book
that you published, The Mechanism of Homogeneous Organic Reactions, was based on
00:38:00your lecture notes or on your course? It came out around 1928 and was an
American Chemical Society monograph.
RICE: It was based on my research work although, of course, my lectures were
based on my work.
HEITMANN: Did someone from the American Chemical Society ask you to write the book?
RICE: I don't remember. All I remember is that free radicals were supposed to be
00:39:00nonexistent. Chemists claimed that there were no such things as OH and CH and CH
and CH in the free state. I was, I suppose, one of the first who showed that
they did exist and that they directed the course of chemical reactions. Of
course, I was very fortunate then in contacting Herzfeld. I'm trying to remember
how I contacted Teller.
HEITMANN: I guess that you really began to seriously investigate these things
called free radicals in the late twenties. Did you initially start by reading
00:40:00the papers of a German chemist? What was his name?
HEITMANN: Paneth? Did you start reading his papers? Copying his apparatus?
RICE: Essentially it was the method of Paneth and Hofeditz. My wife and I were
in Heidelberg in 1932-33 and we arranged to meet Paneth in Berlin for about a
week. Paneth came from the eastern part of Germany especially for our conference.
HEITMANN: When were you married?
00:41:00HEITMANN: Was your wife a student at Hopkins?
RICE: My wife always wanted to be a physician. After she graduated from high
school her father didn't want her to go directly into a premed course. In 1922
no medical school in the U.S. required more than two years of premed studies.
Her father, who was a professor of mathematics at the University of Illinois,
said that she should have at least four years of liberal education and then go
on to earn a doctor's degree in any field in which she qualified. He said, "No
daughter of mine is doing to grow up in a medical school. If, after you have a
Ph.D. you still want to go to medical school, I will do all I can to help you."
So she took her doctor's degree with E. V. McCollum in biochemistry, with the
idea of then going into medical school.
There was a wife of a professor in the math department who was a matchmaker. She
knew my wife's family from math association meetings. (My wife's father had been
President of the American Mathematical Association.) So, when Katherine came to
Baltimore in l928 on a fellowship to McCollum's department, this lady told her
that there were two bachelors on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University and
that she should marry one of them. One of the men was J. C. Hubbard, a
physicist. I was the other.
00:42:00HEITMANN: Your wife chose psychiatry as a profession.
HEITMANN: Was this later? I know for a while she was writing books with you.
RICE: That was between our marriage in 1930 and the birth of our second daughter
in 1936. She worked with me and then she became head of the chemistry department
of the College of Notre Dame, Baltimore, from 1933 through 1936. We thought that
she might become a chemist, but she is essentially a physician. Actually, my
wife didn't go to medical school at Johns Hopkins until after the birth of our
second daughter. She finally got into the field of psychiatry, although she had
originally thought to go into endocrinology. She put in two years as a research
assistant to Curt P. Richter, whose psychological-endocrinological research was
being conducted in the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at Hopkins Hospital. It was
00:43:00obviously what she wanted and she was good at it.
HEITMANN: Getting back to Hopkins again. Walter Patrick did some outside
consulting. Did other professors do consulting at Hopkins or was Patrick pretty
much an exception?
RICE: No, we all had to supplement our university salaries.
HEITMANN: Did you do some consulting?
RICE: Yes. I did consulting. All of us did some consulting. Often our consulting
income was greater than our university salary.
HEITMANN: For whom did you consult?
00:44:00RICE: A firm called Rohm and Haas.
HEITMANN: Oh yes, of Philadelphia.
RICE: Of Philadelphia. Mr. Haas was the president. I had contact with him and I
used to spend one day a week at his place in Philadelphia.
HEITMANN: Do you remember what you were working on at Rohm and Haas? Was it
polymers? Of course, plexiglas came out in l935.
RICE: I don't remember.
HEITMANN: It's a hard question. Of course you collaborated with Herzfeld and
00:45:00Teller. You knew Herzfeld in your day to day life at Hopkins. Do you have any
memories of him?
RICE: Oh yes, we were close friends soon after he came to the Hopkins Physics
Department around 1926. He was best man at our wedding and he was the godfather
of our oldest daughter. I had been interested in speeds of reaction. Because a
00:46:00free radical initiates a complicated chain of reactions, I proposed a
complicated mechanism to explain the reactions. Herzfeld, who was primarily a
theoretical scientist and who had never done an experiment in his life, showed
that these reactions followed a simple law in spite of their complexity. His
00:47:00doing that greatly helped me to get other scientists to accept my hypothesis.
Herzfeld knew no more chemistry than the average physicist, but he was very good
and so was Teller. I was very fortunate in making contact with both of them.
00:48:00Teller is a Hungarian, and of all the countries in Europe, Hungary is the
nearest to England in outlook.
HEITMANN: In 1938 you went to Catholic University at, I guess, an improved salary.
RICE: Salary was one reason. Another was that I am a Catholic and I welcomed the
opportunity to help upgrade the quality of the science program at Catholic
00:49:00University which at that time was not very good. I was fortunate to be a close
friend of Archbishop Curley, archbishop of Baltimore and Washington. Through the
Archbishop's introduction, the rector of the Catholic University asked me to
make a survey of the chemistry department at Catholic University. I was also to
suggest what changes would have to be made in order to make Catholic University
one of the leading chemistry departments in the United States. That was in 1936,
I think. After I handed him a devastating report, essentially recommending
dismissing all but one of the faculty, he offered me the job of fulfilling his
assignment. So in September, 1938, I went to the Catholic University in
Washington, D.C., not as an elected department chairman, but rather as the
appointed head of the department--which is quite a different thing.
At that time, many of the people on the faculty had gotten their degrees from
Catholic University and had never studied anywhere else. I wanted to change that
tradition. I required that every faculty member in my department study at the
graduate level or teach for at least a year at another university. By doing
00:50:00that, I was able to build a very strong department.
HEITMANN: You knew Archbishop Curley when you were a professor at Hopkins in
Baltimore, is that right?
RICE: He was the Archbishop of Baltimore and Washington, I think.
TWEEDELL: Didn't he perform your marriage ceremony?
RICE: My wife is not Catholic so we were married at the archbishop's house in
00:51:00Baltimore. When you're not of the same religion you do have to be very careful
that you're married properly.
HEITMANN: Until very recently, Catholic institutions weren't very strong in the
physical sciences. Is it changing now?
HEITMANN: Do you have any thoughts about that?
00:52:00RICE: Yes. In part, the weakness was caused by a prejudice against biological
science. You see, the biblical story of creation, as far as science is
concerned, is a lot of poppycock. But there is no prejudice at all against the
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HEITMANN: Karl Herzfeld also went to Catholic University, didn't he?
RICE: Yes, he did. Karl was Catholic too. I was close to him. Karl had a
considerable edge on me. He proved that the complicated mechanism that I had
00:54:00devised was in disagreement with the older simpler arrangement.
HEITMANN: When you came out with this very unusual interpretation of how organic
00:55:00materials come together and react, were you supported or opposed? Did other
scientists care? Did they think that it was just another crazy idea.
HEITMANN: Had you a lot of graduate students at Hopkins?
00:56:00RICE: Not very many. The system there was not very good. When a student was
ready to initiate his research for his doctoral dissertation, it was mandatory
that he talk with every faculty member. He was perfectly free to choose to work
with any of them. I don't believe that was always a good system, but they prided
themselves on their great freedom there. Of course, it meant that a man like
Patrick who had a successful practical venture had a lot of students.
00:57:00In 1924, when I went there, the administration added three young men. One was a
man named Bichowsky; the second was H. C. Urey, the Nobel Prize winner; and I
was the third. Bichowsky died about 1950.
HEITMANN: What was his field?
00:58:00RICE: Bichowsky was a remarkable man. His field was the whole world.
HEITMANN: Including the arts?
RICE: Oh yes. He painted. He had no religion of any kind. One time, my wife and
I, with Bichowsky as our guest, were at our cottage on the Chesapeake Bay. We
went to Mass and he spent the time making a painting of the cliff and beach
00:59:00below our cottage. The reason why he is not now remembered is because he went in
every direction. He left Hopkins. He went to Columbia.
01:00:00HEITMANN: Did any companies, like GM, recognize the significance of your work?
RICE: I don't think so. It was generally believed that free radicals didn't exist.
01:01:00HEITMANN: One of the great problems during that period was the production of
tetraethyl lead. The Ethyl Corporation was getting started and Thomas Midgely
was working on these problems. You were right in the middle of a very big thing commercially.
RICE: I didn't recognize that at the time. I remember I took out some patent or
another and wrote to the Du Pont Company to ask whether they would be
01:02:00interested. Boy, were they down quickly. But they were afraid . . .
HEITMANN: You didn't have any contact with Carothers?
RICE: No, I don't think I knew him. I think Carothers died quite young.
HEITMANN: He was about forty, I think. He was in Baltimore for some time because
he received psychiatric treatment at Johns Hopkins. Hugh Taylor was also at the
01:03:00top of something commercially, that was polyethylene. He made polyethylene in
the laboratory and never really recognized just how commercially significant it
would become. I have also noticed, while looking at your papers, that a number
of your graduate students had been supported by fellowships from Du Pont and GM.
That was one reason why I wondered whether or not companies had expressed some
interest in supporting your research.
01:04:00RICE: There was an extraordinary chap at the department named Neil Gordon. He
used to go around to different maufacturers and say, "We're educating the wrong
kind of man. We should have State Fellows, that is, the best students from all
the different universities in North Carolina. We should then send them to
01:05:00Hopkins for four years, pay them a big stipend, and give them a doctoral
degree." He got a lot of money for the chemistry department from different
chemical organizations. Of course, the companies were not completely altruistic.
I suspect that the students who received the doctorates then went to work for them.
HEITMANN: You and Glasebrook published a very important paper.
01:06:00RICE: That's right. I think it was on the bivalent carbon . . .
RICE: Carbene. There was a big argument then on whether or not they were stable.
The two oxides of carbon, the CO and CO2, are both stable; but what about CH2,
is that stable? I think it's pretty well settled now that it isn't. It has a
HEITMANN: During your last few years at Hopkins you and your wife did a lot of
work together. The two of you wrote a book on free
radicals. Several of your children were born in
01:07:00Baltimore during those years. Did your wife work in the laboratory? Did she help
you with the writing?
RICE: For a while she worked in the laboratory. For a while she also helped me a
good deal with the writing.
HEITMANN: She had an appointment at Notre Dame College, didn't she?
RICE: She was on the faculty at Notre Dame.
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HEITMANN: You went to Catholic University in 1938. Did you do any war work after
World War II started?
RICE: Yes, I did do some.
KATHERINE: The day that war was declared, Frank cabled the British Ministry of
Munitions and asked whether they wanted him back. This was the last thing on
God's earth that they wanted. They were afraid of being blockaded by U-boats.
They were trying to get people out of the country and therefore did not want
Frank Rice back there. They suggested to him that he work on chemical warfare
with the Americans.
During World War II therefore, he not only taught at the Catholic University,
but he also served as a consultant to the federal government, advising about
chemical warfare. He was a "dollar-a-year" man. At first, the government sought
advice about the disposal of the byproducts of munitions plants. There were no
considerations about the disposal of nuclear waste at that time. Frank chaired a
committee. He and his colleagues would visit various sites. As an Englishman,
however, he didn't have total clearance. Often, the other men would look over
the situation and report to him in great detail. He was the only one of the
group who had had any experience in this field, having worked with munitions
during the first World War.
Frank continued to teach during the war or we wouldn't have had any income. I
think that all of the "dollar-a-year" men had independent incomes. The
government didn't take full-time people and call them "dollar-a-year" men.
01:09:00HEITMANN: At any rate, you continued your research with free radicals?
RICE: Oh yes.
HEITMANN: And you actually went in different directions with the free radicals
at Catholic University, trapping them at low temperatures?
HEITMANN: You also prepared new types of free radicals as well.
RICE: Yes. I think at about minus a hundred and seventy. I wanted to find out if
01:10:00they were reasonably stable. I haven't found any as yet. It may very well be
that the gasoline of the future will be a very cold gasoline so that you could
get half way across the country using only about twenty gallons. It's quite a
possibility. That's what I'm working on now in the laboratory. It's a curious
01:11:00thing that the U.S. is not an oil rich country. We import quite a bit of it.
HEITMANN: So you're trying to apply your ideas about free radicals to
alternative energy sources?
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HEITMANN: In 1959 you retired from Catholic University and went to Georgetown.
01:22:00RICE: I could have retired from Catholic University when I was sixty-five. I had
to retire when I was seventy. So, I went therefore to Georgetown.
Within three months of commencing my work at Georgetown as a research professor,
I was asked to become temporary director of the chemistry department. I accepted
the appointment for a three year term. I left Georgetown in 1962 because I
wasn't getting along very well with the dean of the graduate school and because
01:23:00a former student of mine, Milton Burton, got Notre Dame to offer me a job. Of
course, when you're seventy-two and someone offers you a good academic job, you
accept it, even if it is in the Midwest. So, that's how I ended up at Notre
Dame. I was on the faculty in the chemistry department for six years. I retired
then. Now I do some independent work.
HEITMANN: Did you teach any courses at Notre Dame while you were there?
01:24:00RICE: No. I had a very grandiose title, Professor of Chemistry and Principal
Research Scientist at the Radiation Laboratory. I held that position for six
years before retiring and building a laboratory in my home. At that time we had
a private house. Of course, when you're living in a house, the roof leaks or the
grass has to be cut; so five years ago we moved here and we have these two
01:25:00adjoining apartments. These are two units with two kitchens. I made one of the
units into a laboratory.
I still think that free radicals may be of use in the practical world. The only
thing that I have to do is to get a source of free radicals that's very cheap
and plentiful and that will last. Many free radicals are stable at liquid
01:26:00nitrogen temperatures. Because they are, there is a possibility that they will
be the fuel of the future. It will be about four times more powerful than the
best gasoline you can buy.
HEITMANN: You're still very active.
RICE: Oh yes.
01:27:00HEITMANN: You have seen chemistry change from being almost a brand new
profession to becoming an integral part of our society. What do you think was
central to chemistry's changing?
RICE: Let me think about that and answer tomorrow. Let me also think about what
01:28:00chemistry is likely to become when none of us are around any more.
HEITMANN: There are a number of questions we will discuss tomorrow with your
wife. Perhaps now I could take a picture of your apparatus.
01:29:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
HEITMANN: I am now at Dr. Francis Rice's home in Mishawaka, Indiana. I shall
initiate today's interview by asking Mrs. Katherine Rice some questions. Mrs.
Rice, you attended the University of Illinois as an undergraduate?
KATHERINE: Yes. My father, an Englishman, was on the faculty of the University
of Illinois. He was a mathematician and had gotten his degree at the University
of Gottingen in Germany. At that time Gottingen was the mathematical center of
HEITMANN: What was your maiden name?
01:30:00KATHERINE: Kempner. After my father got his doctorate at the University of
Gottingen, when I was about four or four and a half years old, he wanted to
settle in an English-speaking country. Going back to Britain wasn't very
practical, however, if he wished to advance himself professionally. So, he
didn't go back to England. He had offers from Brown University and the
University of Illinois. I don't know if he had any others.
01:31:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
We settled in Illinois and I grew up there. In 1925, or two years after I had
enrolled at the University of Illinois, my father got an offer to head the
mathematics department at the University of Colorado. Although I wanted to stay
at Illinois, I was yanked away from there and taken to the University of
Colorado. But it turned out that I got a much better education there. I was one
01:34:00of only two biochemistry majors.
01:35:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
HEITMANN: After you finished at Colorado, you went to Hopkins.
KATHERINE: Yes. I got a scholarship to work under McCollum and got my doctorate
01:40:00there in biochemistry.
01:41:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
01:52:00HEITMANN: How did you meet your husband?
KATHERINE: Through a matchmaker, the wife of a math professor at Hopkins. He
knew my family and I had met him in Boulder one summer.
HEITMANN: You husband was telling me that this morning. A mathematics professor.
KATHERINE: Professor Cohen.
KATHERINE: Yes, Cohen. I don't remember his first name. He was at Hopkins on the
college math faculty and my father had employed him one or two summers in
Boulder. Mrs. Cohen was an inveterate matchmaker. Shortly after I got to
01:53:00Baltimore she called me and said, "I've got two men you have to meet. You've got
to marry one of them." She said, "One of them is Charles Hubbard in the physics
department and the other is Frank Rice in the chemistry department. One of these
two has to be just right for you." She didn't know me very well, but I guess she
knew me better than I thought she did. Well, all that year she was so busy
getting her own daughter married that she couldn't ever get around to it.
01:54:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
Finally, Mrs. Cohen called. She told me that Charles Hubbard had gotten married.
01:55:00"But," she said, "I've got to have you meet Frank Rice in a hurry now so that
nothing will happen to him." So, on November 1, she set out a four-table bridge
party. Mrs. Cohen made a very big thing of the fact that Frank and I had each
01:56:00just moved into new apartments. At that time, I was a graduate student and he
was a tenured associate professor. After the bridge party Frank offered to take
me and a friend home.
01:57:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
Well, we dropped my friend off and then I invited Frank to come to my apartment.
He looked at me absolutely scandalized! This was probably 12:30 a.m. I assured
him that in East Baltimore that was quite acceptable. We often worked in the
laboratory until 10:30 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. and would adjourn to one or another's
apartment, sometimes in couples, sometimes in threes, to have some cocoa or tea.
01:59:00I told him that even if he were seen coming out of the house where I live his
reputation would be quite safe! So he came upstairs with me.
HEITMANN: Did you visit Frank at his laboratory quite frequently after that?
KATHERINE: Oh, I saw him very often after that but not very much in the lab. On
02:00:00November l0 he had asked me to marry him! This from a man who had never been
married, or even engaged, and who was over thirty-nine years old. He was very
sure of himself.
02:01:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
HEITMANN: Was Edward Teller . . . ?
KATHERINE: Was he paranoid when I knew him?
HEITMANN: I didn't want to ask the question like that, but that's about right.
KATHERINE: No. I did not notice a paranoid tendency until he attacked
Oppenheimer. I thought the obsessive preoccupation with the Russians was
02:04:00understandable because he had had a horrible and dramatic escape from Hungary to
get to this country--walking long distances and so on. Terrible, terrible
situation. But I've known other people who have had similar horrible experiences
and I've finally concluded that such situations either make one extremely bitter
and paranoid or an exceedingly tolerant person.
02:05:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
HEITMANN: Frank was also really close to Herzfeld?
02:08:00KATHERINE: Oh very true. Frank came to Hopkins in l924 and I think Herzfeld came
to lecture in 1925. He was invited either to come back or to stay. Karl was best
man at our wedding and our oldest daughter's godfather. Frank and Karl had a
close friendship which I soon shared. Less than a year later Joe and Maria Mayer
came into the department and the five of us had a very good relationship. Karl
wasn't married then.
02:09:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
HEITMANN: Did Karl ever marry?
KATHERINE: Yes. I remember the time he called and told me that he was going to
marry Regina Flanery. Eventually, Karl left Hopkins and went to Catholic
University as head of the physics department.
HEITMANN: He was a very good physicist.
KATHERINE: He was an outstanding physicist.
02:11:00HEITMANN: The interesting relationships are the relationship between Frank and
Karl on the one hand and with Teller on the other hand. Was the collaboration different?
KATHERINE: Yes, the two relationships were different, very different.
Scientifically Karl did a great deal for Frank's theory.
HEITMANN: I think it was 1938.
KATHERINE: Probably 1938. That changed the attitude of skepticism, if not of
ridicule, which this theory of free radicals as involved in the pyrolytic
decomposition of organic compounds had engendered. For years chemists had been
teaching that there are no such things as free radicals. Along came Frank who
said that every heated organic compound starts to decompose and produces free radicals.
02:12:00HEITMANN: I asked Frank this question, and I want to ask you as well. During the
ten years when Frank proposed this idea and it really wasn't accepted, did he
have supporters on the one hand and violent detractors on the other?
KATHERINE: Oh yes. There were more detractors.
HEITMANN: Can you think of any?
KATHERINE: Well, Hinshelwood was the leading detractor. He had an opposing
theory which I can't recall at this time, but he absolutely denied the free
radical theory of small percentage decompositions. Hinshelwood got the Nobel
prize for that. Only two years later, Frank and Karl presented theoretical
justification for the free radicals. Hinshelwood had
02:13:00Frank's Nobel prize. I'm a little bitter about that. I would have liked Frank to
have won the Nobel prize.
HEITMANN: Did Frank and Hinshelwood ever meet?
KATHERINE: Oh yes. As far as I know they hadn't known each other in England.
After he came to America, however, Frank went back to Europe for a few weeks
during alternate summers. His parents were there and he wasn't married at the
time. He certainly had contact with Donnan and E. Baly, who had taught him at
the university. He also reestablished connections with one of the secretaries in
the department. I'm sure that he contacted scientists while over there. I never
02:14:00thought to ask him whether he knew Hinshelwood until they clashed in the literature.
HEITMANN: Were there any American detractors?
KATHERINE: The textbooks were all teaching that there were no such things as
02:15:00free radicals. So, in a sense, the teachers in both high school and college were detractors.
HEITMANN: Did Frank have any contact with Hugh Taylor?
KATHERINE: Oh yes. Hugh Taylor and Frank had known each other at the University
of Liverpool. Frank was the best man at the Taylors' wedding and the godfather
of their oldest daughter. She, in turn, is godmother of our youngest daughter.
HEITMANN: What did Taylor think of Frank's ideas?
KATHERINE: He was supportive.
02:16:00HEITMANN: So he was really an American supporter.
KATHERINE: Yes, he really was. I don't think he published very much about it; he
didn't make it a major issue. But I've heard Taylor give some addresses, for
instance the one at Frank's seventieth birthday party, when he spoke about "an
angel among fools."
HEITMANN: Did he call Frank an "angel among fools"?
KATHERINE: Yes. Hugh Taylor never minced words. As a matter of fact, Hugh Taylor
02:17:00was responsible for Frank's coming to America.
HEITMANN: Yes, he told me about that.
KATHERINE: I don't suppose that he lived with the Taylors, but he might just as
well have been camping with them during his first year in America when he was at
Princeton. After he accepted an offer from New York University, he still went to
parties at Princeton. He would sometimes invite the Taylors up to New York City.
02:18:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
HEITMANN: When you moved to Catholic University, did you move to the suburbs of Washington?
KATHERINE: Yes. We lived in a suburb of Silver Spring called Woodside Park.
02:20:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
HEITMANN: While Frank was at Catholic University he spent a lot of time doing
KATHERINE: Well, he was head of the department. I wanted him to stay entirely in
research. He had had a marvelous appointment at Hopkins where he had done very
02:22:00I think that he taught only one seminar each semester and advised his Ph.D.
candidates. He was essentially a research professor. I had always held research
in much higher regard intellectually and scientifically than teaching. Frank
doesn't agree entirely with me on that. He won an award from the Manufacturing
Chemists Association of America for being the best teacher of college chemistry
in the United States.
HEITMANN: Did he teach freshman chemistry?
KATHERINE: He taught freshman chemistry after he arrived at Catholic University.
02:23:00I thought that too was a waste, but he said, "That's where I'm going to pick up
my chemistry majors."
And he was right. He was an outstanding teacher, beyond question. How he taught
four hundred and fifty young people chemistry at one time is beyond me.
HEITMANN: It's really difficult.
KATHERINE: But he did it and the quality of his teaching was very high.
HEITMANN: But he kept on doing research, didn't he?
KATHERINE: He couldn't do much. Graduate students largely carried out his
research. Before he became head of the department, Dr. Hardee Chambliss, the
02:24:00previous chairman, had had a very large and elegant office and an anteroom for
his secretary. Frank immediately converted Chambliss' office into a library and
greatly expanded the university's collection of chemistry books. He used the
anteroom as his office. He also had his apparatus for free radical production
placed on a large lab table and set in the space between the door and his desk.
He did that so that he could work with it whenever he had some free time. You
couldn't get in or out of his office without having to walk around the apparatus.
HEITMANN: He showed me a picture of that.
02:25:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
HEITMANN: Tell me more about Frank's scientific colleagues and his relationships
KATHERINE: Bichowsky knew Frank before I did. Frank came into the chemistry
department at Hopkins with two other young men, Harold Urey and Bichowsky. The
02:28:00three of them became good friends. They formed their own little clan at Hopkins
because the older scientists set themselves apart from the much younger men.
They were given both an inordinately large number of students to teach and the
less precocious ones as well. The senior members took the cream off the top.
HEITMANN: Frazer and Reid?
KATHERINE: Yes, especially Reid and Patrick.
02:29:00HEITMANN: Did Frank admire Urey very much?
KATHERINE: Oh yes, I think so. They were good friends. Harold left Hopkins first.
02:30:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
The three of them came in 1924 and Harold left in 1927 or 1928. Bichowsky left
02:32:00later to become director of the Naval Research Laboratory in D.C. He was also in
kinetics. He is one of those supremely gifted people who have difficulty
concentrating their energies upon one task. He's starred in Men of Science but
he also worked with Porter Sargent on his murals in the Boston Public Library.
Under a pseudonym, Bichowsky also composed a number of pieces of music. He also
published some novels. One Sunday morning while we went to Mass in St.
02:33:00Frederick's, he painted the picture of the cliff below our cottage. I was so
enthusiastic that when he next visited late in the fall I asked him to paint the
HEITMANN: Your years in Baltimore were pretty wonderful.
KATHERINE: Oh they were wonderful years.
HEITMANN: Frank had mentioned something very interesting. I asked him how he got
02:34:00to Catholic University and he mentioned his connection with Archbishop Curley.
Did Curley actually persuade him to go down there?
KATHERINE: No. Actually, the archbishop persuaded the rector of Catholic
University to ask Frank to evaluate the university's chemistry department. Frank
put it way down on the list of American chemistry departments. So, the
archbishop asked him what would be required to make it one of the ten leading
chemistry departments in the country and promised to provide him with
02:35:00substantial support for that purpose.
HEITMANN: I asked Frank this morning about this. Until very recently, very good
science just hadn't been done in Catholic institutions.
KATHERINE: I know.
HEITMANN: A lot of reasons have been forwarded to explain this phenomenon. Is it
the Church that's responsible or is it the social background of many Catholics?
Do you have any thoughts on this matter?
KATHERINE: I think that both here and in Europe the Catholic population as a
02:36:00whole is not nearly as intellectually oriented as Jews and a great many
Protestants. Catholicism is so important to Catholics and they're so sure that
the Church has all the answers that they're not nearly as concerned about
learning as research scientists have to be.
HEITMANN: Did Frank have to overcome a lot of that kind of thought when he
became chairman at Catholic University?
KATHERINE: He was told that he could hire any qualified person who applied for a
02:37:00position. If two people, one Catholic and one non-Catholic had the same
qualifications, however, then he was to hire the Catholic.
HEITMANN: He has played a very important role in changing the way that Catholic
institutions regard science.
KATHERINE: Is that so? I didn't realize that. I knew that he changed the
chemistry department of the Catholic University and that he had the support of
Herzfeld who had moved a few years earlier to the Catholic University and headed physics.
02:38:00HEITMANN: In the 1950s Frank became interested in looking at wider problems
related to free radicals: space on the one hand and the origins of life on the other.
KATHERINE: Yes, I think you're right.
HEITMANN: Why did he turn away from the laboratory? Did he need to extend his work?
KATHERINE: I don't think it was that so much, as that he thought free radicals
might have had something to do with the origins of life. I think it was a
02:39:00natural outgrowth of the free radical work. I don't know whether anyone has
reported finding the spectra of free radicals in the sun's spectrum. There is
methane in the sun. And I don't remember the chemistry involved, but I do
remember it seemed a natural outgrowth of his previous work. Perhaps his
friendship with Urey, who was thinking very much along those lines, also
influenced his outlook.
02:40:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
HEITMANN: I think he was a great, creative scientist and that his insight into
organic reactions was phenomenal.
KATHERINE: I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly.
02:43:00HEITMANN: (To Dr. Francis Rice) You were involved for quite some time in studies
on a battery additive, ADX2. I was wondering if you want to talk about that
02:44:00today. Was it Jess Ritchie who invented the substance?
RICE: He invented it. I don't know what Ritchie's history was. He was not a
scientist at all, but he invented a substance named ADX2. When a car battery
02:45:00went dead, one popped in a little package of ADX2.
HEITMANN: Don't they still sell that?
TWEEDELL: I don't think so. There was a big government investigation of it.
RICE: Oh, don't say that. It turned out to be a rare chemical with the formula
NA SO2, which cost about ten dollars a ton. (laughter) He was selling a little
02:46:00package for three dollars. It was nothing but sodium sulfate. I think it was in Boston.
TWEEDELL: I think it was MIT.
RICE: MIT and the Catholic University. By the way, do you happen to have a copy
of that letter we wrote to the Washington Post? It got published.
02:47:00TWEEDELL: I think we will find it. (Reading)
Because of the recent publicity given to the subject of battery additives in
which phrases have appeared, such as, "Scientists on the staff of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Catholic University" and "Tests by the
Catholic University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Scientists," it
seems advisable to clarify the position of the undersigned members of the
chemistry department of the Catholic University of America on this subject. At
no time were experiments conducted here or elsewhere under the sponsorship of
the Catholic University Chemistry Department. Any consultation on battery
additives undertaken by an individual member of the Chemistry Department was
performed as a private project and without the benefit or the advice or approval
02:48:00of the Department. In short, we have had nothing to do with the subject of
battery additives and repudiate the implication that we endorse any of them. It
is not our intention to enter into the controversy concerning the merits of
battery additives in general or of ADX2 in particular but rather to affirm our
faith and confidence in the scientific method as the only safe way of arriving
at the truth in this matter.
HEITMANN: How did Catholic University get involved in this?
RICE: Is there any more stuff about that? Wasn't there some speculation in the
paper? In the Post, about . . .
TWEEDELL: Here are clippings.
RICE: You may as well read that too. He may as well know. It's hot stuff. You
see, there was one member of the department who did endorse ADX2.
HEITMANN: Who was that?
HEITMANN: Laidler endorsed it? When?
02:49:00RICE: It should appear here.
TWEEDELL: 1953. We have a whole book of newspaper clippings. The National Bureau
of Standards got involved.
RICE: Oh yes. The director got fired!
HEITMANN: The Director of the National Bureau of Standards! It was probably,
what's his name, Astin?
02:50:00TWEEDELL: There were congressional hearings on it.
HEITMANN: Did you have to participate in the congressional hearings?
RICE: No, I didn't actually. I walked out. This fellow Ritchie pours ADX2 into a
battery and a lot of scientifically ignorant senators . . . (laughter) Oh my,
02:51:00HEITMANN: How did Laidler get involved in all of this? Did they approach him?
TWEEDELL: He was consulting for that firm, wasn't he?
02:52:00HEITMANN: Apparently Laidler and the laboratories at MIT endorsed this product.
The National Bureau of Standards tested it, however, and found that it was worthless.
RICE: That phrase was, "It was without merit," I think.
TWEEDELL: Somehow, this became a political thing. Because he said it was no
good, the chief of the NBS was fired. All sorts of people then jumped on the
issue. Here's a whole book full of political cartoons.
02:53:00HEITMANN: Well, really Frank, you were in the middle of this.
RICE: That's so. Yes indeed. They said my department endorsed it.
TWEEDELL: Here's the article that includes the letter that I just read.
RICE: That's right.
TWEEDELL: Yes. (Reading)
Seven members of the Chemistry Department at Catholic University yesterday
disassociated themselves from their eighth colleague over his endorsement of the
controversial battery additive ADX2. In a statement bearing on the fight raging
over the National Bureau of Standards' adverse tests of the substance and over
02:54:00the forced resignation of its director, the Catholic University scientists said
they repudiated the wide-spread public impression that they endorsed any battery
additive. They added that at no time were any of the experiments on the subjects
conducted on the sponsorship of the university Chemistry Department. What
experiments one of their number did on his own, they said, were without benefit
or advice or approval of the department. Their statement was obviously in
reference to the work of the eighth member of the university's Chemistry
Department, Dr. Laidler, who has become one of ADX 's most energetic champions.
Originally employed as a consultant by the manufacturer of the ADX2, Laidler has
since become the scientific advisor of the Senate's Small Business Committee,
which has taken up the cause of the battery additive. It was learned yesterday
that a year ago Laidler wrote a nine page report for Pioneers Incorporated, the
Oakland manufacturer of ADX2. The document, signed by Laidler, and bearing the
02:55:00date of May l5, l952, was copyrighted and distributed by Pioneers Inc. It is a
glowing endorsement of ADX 's efficacy in prolonging the life of a storage
battery and combatting deleterious effects of age and usage. It denounces tests
by the Bureau of Standards which said that no additives had any such value.
Since Laidler's association with the Senate Small Business Committee, that group
issued a report alluding to favorable tests of ADX2 by "Catholic University
Scientists." It was to this aspect of the situation that yesterday's statement
referred. In a letter to the Washington Post, the Catholic University scientists
made it clear that it was the expression of their own views and not an official
or unofficial reflection of opinion of the institution, and the statement read .
HEITMANN: And that's the one you read me.
HEITMANN: Now, Laidler ended up going to Canada after this? Did he stay in the
RICE: Laidler was, I think, an associate professor. You didn't get tenure until
02:57:00you were a full professor. Anyhow, he was on a three year appointment. Because
his endorsements got us into trouble, I recommended that his appointment not be
renewed. Quite recently he wrote me a rather friendly letter.
02:58:00HEITMANN: Sometimes it's just best to let these things die. But it's a very
RICE: Oh yes. Well, I've always wanted to ask Laidler why he did it. He
02:59:00shouldn't have done it. The best thing you can say about ADX2 is that it didn't
do the battery any harm.
03:00:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
HEITMANN: I think it's a very interesting case of how science, consulting, and
03:01:00business all come together and sometimes create great problems. Laidler ended up
writing a fairly good textbook on chemical kinetics.
03:02:00RICE: I wrote a letter to him advising him to write a history of chemistry. I
can hardly believe that Laidler would still endorse ADX2.
03:03:00HEITMANN: Would you say that that was about the most difficult administrative
problem you had in your career?
RICE: Yes. It was a very difficult period.
03:04:00[There is audio content in this section that is not transcribed.]
HEITMANN: There is a question I wanted to ask you. Your academic career spanned
03:07:00fifty-one years. Looking back, can you think of any central achievement which
you think transformed chemistry during your own lifetime?
HEITMANN: Linus Pauling, do you think?
03:08:00RICE: I really know too little about his work, but I came to America in l9l9. I
was at New York University, then Hopkins, and then Catholic University. I was a
year or two at Georgetown; then I came up to Notre Dame. I'm here now steadily
03:09:00HEITMANN: What did you think of the work of Henry Eyring? He never won a Nobel Prize.
03:10:00RICE: No. Very knowledgeable man in mathematics.
HEITMANN: You say the idea of speed of reactions and chemical kinetics did a
great deal to transform what we know as chemistry today.
03:11:00RICE: I think that's right. The speed of chemical reactions. The mechanism of
HEITMANN: That was all new when you first started your chemical career.
03:12:00RICE: Oh, yes. Of course, when I started work, E. Baly was my professor at
Liverpool and his work was mainly spectroscopic.
03:13:00HEITMANN: I think I'll close the taping for now. Thank you for the interview,
[End of interview]