Oral history interview with John H. Sinfelt

Oral history interview with John H. Sinfelt

  • 1995-Feb-21

In this interview, Dr. Sinfelt recalls his childhood during the Depression, his early education, and his interest in mathematics. He then moves on to the awakening of his interest in science, first at Lycoming College and then at Pennsylvania State University. He decided to continue on to graduate work at the University of Illinois. Sinfelt describes the University's chemistry department under Roger Adams and his own studies under Harry Drickamer.

Moving on to the Exxon Research and Engineering Company, Sinfelt recounts how post-World War II demand for increased production of high octane gasoline led to two developments: the choice of fixed-bed platinum hydroforming over fluid-bed hydroforming and the choice of precious rather than non-precious metal catalysts. Sinfelt describes how his research on catalytic reaction kinetics meshed with Exxon's increased emphasis on basic research and how this led to his discovery of bimetallic clusters and the success of the platinum-iridium catalyst. He describes how Exxon's commercial use of this catalyst, along with Chevron's platinum-rhenium catalyst led to the development of lead-free gasoline and decreased carbon monoxide emissions. Sinfelt next discusses current environmental concerns about this system. He then explains his research on the crystalline structure of bimetallic catalysts, which led to the characterization of small metallic particles and metallic adsorption. Finally, Sinfelt discusses Exxon's attitude toward research; his book Bimetallic Catalysts, in which he theorizes on the relationship between an element's catalytic activity and its place in the periodic table; and his views on innovation, teamwork, and the future of research in the chemical industry.

Place of interview
Original file type PDF, MP3
  • 62 pages
Rights In Copyright - Non-Commercial Use Permitted
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Related URL
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

Physical location


Cite as

John H. Sinfelt, interviewed by James J. Bohning in Annandale, New Jersey on February 21, 1995. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0134. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/js956g92d.

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Transcript (Published Version)

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