Oral history interview with Rudolf Signer

Oral history interview with Rudolf Signer

  • 1986-Sep-30

Rudolf Signer starts this interview by talking about his family background in Herisau. The Kantonschule at St. Gallen emphasized mathematics and the sciences, and there, Signer's youthful interests in astronomy and philosophy were reinforced. Study of chemistry at ETH followed, and Signer recalls some of his professors there. Graduate research on polyoxymethylenes with Staudinger introduced Signer to the young field of polymer chemistry, and he remembers the controversy about Staudinger's macromolecular hypothesis. Moving to Freiburg with Staudinger, Signer set up equipment to measure streaming birefringence, which proved a powerful technique of the solution characterization of polymers. A Rockefeller Fellowship enabled Signer to work with Svedberg at Uppsala and to apply ultracentrifugal sedimentation to synthetic polymers in organic solvents. The rest of that postdoctoral year was spent at Manchester with Bragg, where Rudolf Signer used X-rays for structural investigations. Signer also expounds on his decision to leave Freiburg and on his acceptance of a chair at the University of Berne. The interview includes mention of much research made at Berne, including the isolation and characterization of nucleic acids, water-protein interactions, molecular separation techniques and the thermodynamics of polymer solutions. Signer concludes with recollections of a post-war tour of the United States and of his memories of Staudinger.

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

About the Interviewer

Tonja A. Koeppel received a master’s degree in chemistry from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 1944. Since then she has written about chemistry, done research, and taught college chemistry. Dr. Koeppel is also a historian of chemistry. In 1973 she earned a PhD degree in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania. She is especially interested in the development of organic chemistry in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Physical location

Oral history number 0056

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • March 17, 1903
  • Herisau, Switzerland
  • December 01, 1990
  • Muri bei Bern, Switzerland


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1928 Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

  • 1926 to 1935 Teaching Assistant and Research Fellow

Universität Bern

  • 1935 to 1937 Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry
  • 1937 to 1972 Professor of Organic Chemistry


Year(s) Award
1933 Rockefeller Fellowship, Uppsala and Manchester
1948 Rockefeller Special Fellowship, USA
1949 Lavoisier Medal, La Société Chimique de France

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PDF — 202 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

5 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads