Oral history interview with Ivan Maxwell Robinson

Oral history interview with Ivan Maxwell Robinson

  • 2001-Jan-24

Ivan Maxwell Robinson begins the interview with a discussion of his family life and education. He was born in the small village of Lakeville, Nova Scotia, where his father ran the general store, and his mother was a school teacher. Around sixth grade, Robinson's family moved to Kentville, Nova Scotia, where Maxwell Robinson attended junior high school and high school. After high school, Robinson earned his bachelors degree in chemistry, with honors in 1941, from Acadia University. He obtained his master's degree in chemistry from the University of Toronto in 1942, and worked briefly for Canadian Industries Ltd. while studying. After a brief term of service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Robinson returned to college, where he earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from Purdue University in 1949.

Robinson was interviewed by numerous corporations while studying at Purdue University, and decided that DuPont was the best place to do research. Subsequently, he moved his family to Wilmington, Delaware, and joined DuPont as a bench chemist. Robinson worked initially in Frank Gresham's research group trying to make a polyimide from a monoamine. By 1952, he successfully made a high-molecular-weight polyimide from a long-chain diamine. In that same year, Robinson was made a supervisor at DuPont. Robinson's group is credited with numerous chemical innovations, such as coordination polymerization, and copolymers of ethylene-sulfur dioxide. Robinson retired from DuPont as a research chemist in 1981 and joined Indiana University as a visiting scientist. Moreover, Robinson has been teaching genealogy at the Academy of Lifelong Learning for over 10 years. In 2000, Robinson was awarded the Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement. Robinson concludes the interview with a discussion of Karl Ziegler's and Giulio Natta's work on propylene polymerization, and its relationship to his group's work at DuPont.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 34 pages
  • 2 h 37 m 20 s
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute
Digitization funder
  • Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.

Physical location

Oral history number 0215

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • May 26, 1920
  • Lakeville, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • December 22, 2017
  • Wilmington, Delaware, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1940 Acadia University BSc Chemistry
1941 Acadia University BSc Chemistry
1942 University of Toronto MA Chemistry
1949 Purdue University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company

  • 1949 to 1952 Research Chemist
  • 1952 to 1954 Supervisor
  • 1954 to 1961 Section Manager
  • 1961 to 1964 Manager, Technical Sales
  • 1964 to 1973 Laboratory Director
  • 1973 to 1975 Research Associate
  • 1975 to 1981 Research Fellow

Indiana University, Bloomington

  • 1981 Visiting Scientist


Year(s) Award
2000 Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement

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PDF — 303 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