In this interview, Frank Westheimer begins with his family, his childhood and early education in Baltimore, his undergraduate days at Dartmouth, his decision to go into chemistry, and his choice of Harvard for graduate work. Next, he covers his years as a graduate student at Harvard and talks about his research with James Conant and Elmer Kohler, the faculty at Harvard and the courses they taught, and his summer work with Alsoph Corwin at Johns Hopkins. He also talks at length about his early interest in biochemistry, his view of theoretical organic chemistry in the mid-1930s and the opportunities for research open to him, the development of theoretical organic chemistry in the early part of the twentieth century, and the publications of some of the early scientists. This is followed by a description of his year as a National Research Fellow at Columbia, his research, his colleagues, and more on the development of his interest in biochemical problems.
Westheimer continues with the offer of a position at the University of Chicago from Morris Kharasch, and includes an extensive discussion of the university, his research, and his collaboration with John Kirkwook, Joe Mayer and Birgit Vennesland. In the next part of the interview, he comments on his selection and training of students and discusses a number of former students who have been successful in research careers. The interview concludes with more discussion of physical organic chemistry, past, present and future; a review of his work on the hydrolysis of phosphate esters and pseudorotation; comments on the future of organic chemistry; and a review of the Westheimer Report, the analysis of American chemistry by the National Academy of Sciences.
Leon Gortler is a professor of chemistry at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He holds AB and MS degrees from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Harvard University where he worked with Paul Bartlett. He has long been interested in the history of chemistry, in particular the development of physical organic chemistry, and has conducted over fifty oral and videotaped interviews with major American chemists.
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