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Photograph of Ronald Breslow
 Courtesy of Douglas Lockard, CHF Collections

Oral history interview with Ronald C. Breslow

  • 1999-Mar-19 (First session)
  • 1999-Apr-09 (Second session)

Oral history interview with Ronald C. Breslow

  • 1999-Mar-19 (First session)
  • 1999-Apr-09 (Second session)

Ronald Breslow begins the interview with a discussion of his family life and background. He grew up in Rahway, New Jersey, the son of a physician. Max Tishler, a family friend, helped to pique Breslow's interest in chemistry. In high school, Breslow entered the Westinghouse Science Contest, which enabled him to meet like-minded teenagers. Breslow entered Harvard University, graduating with his A.B. in chemistry in 1952. He discusses chemistry courses taught by Louis Fieser and Paul Bartlett, and his research with Gilbert Stork on the structure of cedrene. Breslow received a master's degree in medical science from Harvard in 1953, and he discusses the uniqueness of the program. He continued his graduate studies with R.B. Woodward, earning his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1955 for his work on magnamycin. He discusses his graduate school colleagues and his post-doc with Alexander Todd.

In 1956 Breslow joined the faculty of Columbia University, where he has worked on a variety of subjects, including thiamine, cyclopropenyl cation, cyclopdextrins, and electon transfer. He discusses his colleagues, his collaborations, and his cancer research. Breslow further addresses changes at Columbia, Columbia's chemistry department, and his involvement in the American Chemical Society. He concludes with a discussion of his consulting activities and reflections on his family and career.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 90 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

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.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0181

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • March 14, 1931
  • Rahway, New Jersey, United States
  • October 25, 2017
  • New York, New York, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1952 Harvard University AB Chemistry
1953 Harvard University MA Medical Sciences
2016 Harvard University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Cambridge

  • 1955 to 1956 National Research Council Fellow

Columbia University

  • 1956 to 1959 Instructor, Department of Chemistry
  • 1959 to 1962 Associate Professor of Chemistry
  • 1962 to 1967 Professor of Chemistry
  • 1967 to 2000 Samuel Latham Mitchell Professor of Chemistry
  • 1992 to 2000 University Professor


Year(s) Award
1966 Award in Pure Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1966 Fresenius Award, Phi Lambda Upsilon
1969 Baekeland Medal, American Chemical Society
1969 Mark van Doren Medal, Columbia University
1972 Centenary Medal, British Chemical Society
1974 Harrison Howe Award, Rochester Section, American Chemical Society
1977 Remsen Prize, Maryland Section, American Chemical Society
1978 Roussel Prize in Steroids, Roussel-UCLAF, France
1980 James Flack Norris Prize in Physical Organic Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1984 T. W. Richards Medal, Northeast Section, American Chemical Society
1987 Arthur C. Cope Award, American Chemical Society
1988 Kenner Award, University of Liverpool
1989 Nichols Medal, New York Section, American Chemical Society
1989 Award in Chemical Sciences, National Academy of Sciences
1990 Allan Day Award, Philadelphia Organic Chemists Club
1990 Paracelsus Award and Medal, Swiss Chemical Society
1991 National Medal of Science
1999 Priestley Medal, American Chemical Society
2010 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry

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PDF — 536 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

9 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads