Oral history interview with Rudolph A. Marcus

  • 1991-Jun-20

Rudolph Marcus begins the interview with a discussion of his family background and early education. Though he spent some of his early years in Detroit, Michigan, he primarily grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Montreal, Canada. Marcus was encouraged to continue his education by his parents and his uncles. He enrolled in the twelfth grade, the equivalent of the first year of college, to save money for the university. Marcus then attended McGill University, majoring in chemistry. He graduated with a B.Sc. in 1943. Due to the war, he was able to take his fourth year in the course of a summer. Marcus went directly to graduate school, also at McGill, and studied physical chemistry with Carl Winkler. His research, RDX, was determined by war needs, and he received his PhD in 1946. He spent an additional two and a half years on a National Research Council of Canada post-doc with Edward W. R. Steacie. In 1949, Marcus moved to the University of North Carolina, accepting a position with Oscar Rice, who had received an Office of Naval Research contract. It was there that Marcus began to focus on theory, particularly unimolecular and transition state theory. The result of this work was the development of the RRKM theory. In 1951, Marcus moved again, this time to Brooklyn Polytechnic University, where he became an assistant professor in the chemistry department. Marcus discusses his colleagues, including Herman Mark, Herbert Morawetz, and Charles Overberger, as well as the atmosphere of the institution. He became interested in electrostatics and polyelectrolytes. He also began some polymer research, and pursued work on electron transfer. In 1964, Marcus left Brooklyn Polytechnic for the University of Illinois. During his time there, he spent a few semesters at Oxford University as a visiting professor. In 1978, Marcus accepted a position at Caltech, where he began collaborating with Ahmed Zewail. His desire to pursue his research led him to decline administrative work. At Caltech, Marcus continued his electron transfer research. He concludes the interview with a discussion of his family, the challenges of research, and thoughts on his electron transfer work.

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