Oral history interview with Leo Brewer

Oral history interview with Leo Brewer

  • 1992-Apr-03

Leo Brewer begins the interview with a description of his family and his early years growing up in Youngstown, Ohio. Brewer's father worked as a shoe repairman until the Depression hit in 1929. Brewer and his family then moved to Los Angeles. Brewer became interested in chemistry through the influence of a high-school chemistry teacher. After graduating from John Marshall High School, Brewer attended the California Institute of Technology. After receiving his B.S. in 1940, Brewer was advised by Linus C. Pauling to begin his graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied under Axel R. Olsen.

Upon receiving his Ph.D., Brewer immediately joined the Manhattan Project as a research associate. Brewer's job was to use models in the periodic table to determine the worst properties of plutonium. Brewer tested refractory materials such as nitrites, carbides, lanthanides, actinides, sulfites, sulfides, and phosphides. He determined that cerium sulfide would serve as the best model. Later, Brewer predicted the electronic configuration of all the actinides. Brewer's research for the Manhattan Project found direct application at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and was later published as part of the Manhattan Project Technical Series.

In 1946, Brewer joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley. During his career at Berkeley, Brewer worked in many fields, including organic chemistry, ceramics, astrochemistry, and even geology. Within these areas, he applied his thermodynamic research, including studying high-temperature molecules present in comets and stars, and the distribution of elements in the earth's gravitational field. He is currently an Emeritus Professor at Berkeley. As an educator, Brewer taught many courses on several levels, including freshman chemistry, inorganic chemistry, thermodynamics, and phase diagram equilibration. In more recent years, Brewer and his graduate students have branched their research into metallurgy. Brewer concludes the interview with a discussion of his published papers, the future of research support and application, and thoughts on the future of education.

Place of interview
Original file type MP3, PDF
  • 55 pages
Rights In Copyright - Non-Commercial Use Permitted
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
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Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

Physical location


Cite as

Leo Brewer, interviewed by James J. Bohning in University of California, Berkeley on April 3, 1992. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0106. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/x633f188n.

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Transcript (Published Version)

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