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Oral history with Isabella and Jerome Karle

  • 1987-Feb-26 (First session)
  • 1987-Jun-15 (Second session)
  • 1987-Sep-09 (Third session)

Oral history with Isabella and Jerome Karle

  • 1987-Feb-26 (First session)
  • 1987-Jun-15 (Second session)
  • 1987-Sep-09 (Third session)

Isabella and Jerome Karle met while both were pursuing doctorates in physical chemistry under Professor Lawrence Brockway at the University of Michigan. After earning their degrees (and marrying), they worked on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory. After a brief return to the University of Michigan, the Karle’s moved to the United States Naval Research Laboratory, where they focused on the development of X-ray crystallography. They worked together to develop a direct method for determining crystal structures, work for which Jerome Karle, with their colleague Herbert Hauptman, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1985. Over the course of three interview sessions, the Karles discuss their childhoods, early education, undergraduate and graduate work, careers and collaborations.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 94 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 Interviewers

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.

David van Keuren earned a PhD in history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982, following a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (1975) and a bachelor’s from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire (1972).  His graduate studies were concentrated on scientific thought in Europe and America from the Middle Ages to the present.  In 1986, he joined the staff of the Naval Research Laboratory as its historian, documenting the agency’s significant research and development achievements past and present, and contributing to national awareness of the broad impact of military scientific research on civil society.  He died in a hit-and-run bicycle accident on 26 March 2004, in southwest Washington.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0066

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

Karle, Jerome

  • June 18, 1918
  • New York , New York, United States
  • June 06, 2013
  • Annandale, Virginia, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1937 City University of New York. City College BS Chemistry and Biology
1938 Harvard University MA Biology
1942 University of Michigan MS Physical Chemistry
1943 University of Michigan PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

New York (State). Department of Health

  • 1939 to 1940 Laboratory Assistant

University of Chicago

  • 1943 to 1944 Research Associate, Manhattan Project

University of Michigan

  • 1944 to 1946 Research Associate, US Navy Project

Naval Research Laboratory (U.S.)

  • 1946 to 1958 Head, Electron Diffraction Section
  • 1958 to 1967 Head, Diffraction Branch
  • 1967 to 2009 Chair of Science and Chief Scientist of the Laboratory for the Structure of Matter


Year(s) Award
1959 Research Society of America Award in Pure Science
1961 Elected Fellow- American Physical Society
1968 Navy Distiguished Civilian Service Award
1970 Hillebrand Award of Washington Section of American Chemical Society
1972 President of American Crystallographic Association
1976 Navy Robert Dexter Conrad Association
1976 Elected to National Academy of Sciences
1981 President of International Union of Chrystallography
1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
1986 Honorary Member, International Academy of Science
1986 Golden Plate Award of the Academy of Achievement
1986 Rear Admiral William S. Parsons Award of the Navy League
1986 Townsend Harris Award, Alumni Association of City College of New York
1986 Secretary of Navy Award for Distinguished Achievement in Science
1986 President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service
1986 National Library of Medicine Medal
1986 Sigma Xi Centennial Lecturer
1986 Thomas A. Edison Memorial Lecturer
1986 Distinguished Lecturer in Chemistry, University of Michigan
1986 Karl Herzfeld Memorial Lecturer, Catholic University of America
1986 Albert A. Michelson Award, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois
1986 Paul Harteck Series Lecturer, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Karle, Isabella

  • December 02, 1921
  • Detroit, Michigan, United States
  • October 03, 2017
  • Virginia, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 University of Michigan BS Chemistry
1942 University of Michigan MS Physical chemistry
1944 University of Michigan PhD Physical chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Michigan

  • 1944 to 1945 Instructor

National Research Laboratory

  • 1946 to 2009 Head, X-ray Diffraction Section of the Laboratory for the Structure of Matter


Year(s) Award
1965 Superior Civilian Service, Navy Department
1968 Annual Achievement Award, Society of Women Engineers
1970 Hillebrand Award, American Chemical Society
1973 Federal Women's Award
1976 Garvan Medal, American Chemical Society
1980 Dexter Conrad Award, Office of Naval Research
1984 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
1986 Lifetime Achievement Award, Women in Science and Engineering
1988 Gregory Aminoff Prize, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
1988 Rear Admiral William S. Parsons Award of the Navy League

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PDF — 1.1 MB

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

14 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads