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Oral history interview with Foil A. Miller

  • 2001-May-23 (First session)
  • 2011-Jun-28 (Second session)

Oral history interview with Foil A. Miller

  • 2001-May-23 (First session)
  • 2011-Jun-28 (Second session)

Foil A. Miller begins the interview by describing the origins of the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy [Pittcon]. Miller was involved early on with Pittcon and its two founding groups, the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh and the Society of Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh. In the 1950s, Pittsburgh had an active community of both academics and people from industry, which contributed to the success of Pittcon. Although the emphasis of the conference has evolved over time and reflects changes in the fields, it possesses a strong institutional history that allows for smooth transitions in leadership and administration. Miller outlines some of the changes in the field of instrumentation that he has observed during the course of his career and reflects on some of the key individuals in instrument entrepreneurship. Although Miller first came to Pittsburgh to work at the Mellon Institute, he soon moved to the University of Pittsburgh where he taught in the chemistry department until his retirement at age sixty-five. After retirement, Miller indulged his love of travel and developed an interest in stamp collecting, particularly stamps relating to physics and chemistry. He co-authored a book on these stamps with Edgar Heilbronner and is the editor of Philatelia Chimica et Physica, a newsletter about the subject.

Revisited ten years after the first interview, the newer interview has a slightly different—slightly more personal—focus, beginning with Miller’s family background and continuing with a short précis of his growing up and selection of chemistry, especially spectroscopy, as a career.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 70 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

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

John Sharkey is professor emeritus of chemistry at Pace University in New York City. He received his BS (1964), MS, (1968) and PhD (1970, under Seymour Lewin) degrees from New York University. At Pace he served as department chair, associate dean, and associate provost. He was elected a fellow of Dyson College in 1985 and received the Keenan Award for Teaching Excellence in 1988. He has been a member of the American Chemical Society (ACS) since 1969 and has served on the Committee on Nominations and Elections, the Society Committee on Education, the Board of Trustees for Member Insurance Plans, and the National Historic Chemical Landmarks Committee. He currently serves on the Board Standing Committee on Audits. At the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Sharkey is a charter member of the Heritage Council, representing the ACS, and the Bolton Society. Sharkey has been a longtime member of HIST, and is currently serving as the division’s archivist. He also serves as historian and archivist for the ACS New York Section, and was chair of the section in 1987. Sharkey’s research interests are in the history of chemistry. He was elected a fellow of the ACS in 2011.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0220

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • January 18, 1916
  • Aurora, Illinois, United States
  • September 20, 2016
  • Glenville, Illinois, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1937 Hamline University BS
1942 Johns Hopkins University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Minnesota

  • 1942 to 1944 National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow in Chemistry

University of Illinois at Chicago

  • 1944 to 1948 Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Mellon Institute for Industrial Research

  • 1948 to 1958 Head, Spectroscopy Division
  • 1958 to 1967 Senior Fellow, Independent Research
  • 1967 to 1974 Adjunct Senior Fellow

University of Pittsburgh

  • 1952 to 1964 Lecturer in Chemisty
  • 1964 to 1967 Adjunct Professor of Chemistry
  • 1967 to 1981 University Professor; Professor of Chemistry; Head, Spectroscopy Laboratory
  • 1981 to 2012 Professor Emeritus

Philatelia Chimica et Physica

  • 1997 to 2004 Editor


Year(s) Award
1957 Guggenheim Fellow
1964 Pittsburgh Spectroscopy Award
1965 Pittsburgh Award, American Chemical Society
1973 Hasler Award, Society of Applied Spectroscopy

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PDF — 628 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