Department of Chemistry

Especially interesting is the history of the teaching of Chemistry at Notre Dame. The general catalog of the University now available lists Thomas McKinnis, M.D., as Professor of Chemistry - in 1852. The records reveal that at the Commencement in 1853 a prize in chemistry was awarded to a student by the name of William Niles. The catalog of 1854 makes mention of a "complete set of chemical and physical apparatus," and we find for the year 1885 a note of "chemistry illustrated by lecture and experiment." For 1875 there is notation of "qualitative analysis partly at the expense of the student." The science students of that time were required to take a year of general chemistry and a year of qualitative analysis. As early as 1872 the program of studies for the Arts course included a full-year course in chemistry and natural philosophy. Beginning with 1884, the catalog record the fact that "qualitative analysis is taken at the expense of the student." Thus, individual laboratory work in chemistry began at a very early date at Notre Dame - earlier, in fact, than at many of the larger educational institutions in the United States.

A practical interest in chemistry is one of the oldest traditions of the University. Rev. Thomas L. Vagnier, C.S.C., was professor of chemistry from 1858 to 1875. In 1874 Rev. Joseph Carrier, C.S.C., introduced the course of qualitative analysis. In 1875 Rev. John A. Zahm, C.S.C., succeeded Father Vagnier as professor of physics and chemistry, and in 1891 Rev. James A. Burns, C.S.C., later president of the University and provincial of the Congregation of Holy Cross, became professor of chemistry. It was Father Burns who began the journal library in chemistry. Rev. Joseph Maquire, C.S.C., was added to the staff in 1898, and Rev. Julius A. Nieuwland, C.S.C., entered the Department as a teacher in 1904. Thus from its earliest days the Department of Chemistry has engaged the talent of some of the ablest men of Notre Dame. It was the first department of the University to have a separate building devoted to a single science.

In 1920, at the time of the reorganization of the college into departments, Rev. James A. Burns, C.S.C., President, invited Professor Henry B. Froning to become Head of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, both of which were housed in the same building; this close association of the two departments continued until 1940, when Mr. Ronald E. Rich assumed the headship of the chemical engineering department. At the outset of World War II in 1941, Dr. Andrew J. Boyle became head of the Department of Chemistry and served in this capacity until 1945, when Dr. Charles C. Price assumed the post until 1954, then to be replaced by Dr. G. F. D'Alelio. In 1960 Dr. Frederick D. Rossini became Dean of the College of Science and Acting Head of the Department of Chemistry, and in 1964 Dr. Ernest L. Eliel became Head of the Department; presently, he has two assistants, Dr. Emil T. Hofman and Dr. Jeremiah P. Freeman.

Although Father Julius A. Nieuwland, C.S.C., had been a teacher in the department since 1904, it was not until the early 20s that he became director of research in organic chemistry and devoted full time to teaching and research activities in the department. The publication of the results of the results of chemical research at Notre Dame began as early as 1906, and the first doctor's degree in the Department of Chemistry was conferred in 1912. It was not until 1918, however, when library facilities became more adequate, that research in this field began to assume more importance. The foundation work for later developments, particularly that of Neoprene by the E. I. du Pont organization, was done before 1925. Father Nieuwland was responsible for putting Notre Dame on the map, chemically speaking, when, as an invited lecturer at the first Organic Chemistry Symposium in 1926 [sic]* at Buffalo [sic]*, he disclosed his now-famous catalytic polymerization of acetylene which gave rise to the basic patents in the manufacture of Neoprene. The consulting fees which Father Nieuwland received from the du Pont company were used by him to build up the chemistry library, now a part of the science library; this chemistry library continues to be one of the best in the country. The royalty income to the University went into a fund which covered a major portion of the cost for Nieuwland Science Hall. Father Nieuwland's death in 1936 ended the first major growth-phase of the department, during which time research problems involving acetylene chemistry, liquid ammonia, and boron trifluoride were investigated.

The teaching in the department during this early phase was aided by such people as Rev. William H. Moloney, C.S.C., Joseph Reichert, Charles Rudmann, Lawrence Rhombaut, Philip J. Byrne, James Bailey, Rev. Leo Heiser, C.S.C., Rev. Ernest Davis, C.S.C., Charles J. Robrecht, Raymond C. Spencer, Edward G. Mahin, William E. Sturgeon, Henry D. Hinton, Frank J. Mootz, Daniel P. Nolan, Elmer T. Weibel, Frank J. Sowa, and Richard R. Vogt. Research in physical chemistry started about 1930 through the impetus of Dr. Herman H. Wenzke, who had come into the department several years before; research in inorganic chemistry did not start until 1940.

During the period from 1936 to 1945 a respectable publication record was maintained chiefly through the efforts of Dr. George F. Hennion and Dr. Kenneth N. Campbell; during the war period the efforts of the department were directed for the most part to providing training for the V-12 trainees of the Navy program, although Dr. Campbell conducted an extensive investigation on antimalarial drugs for the war effort.

Following World War II and through the years until the present a number of persons who are either deceased or are no longer at the University contributed much to the growth and prestige of the department; among them were Francis L. Benton, Christopher L. Wilson, Paul M. Doty, Russell R. Williams, Rev. Thomas J. Lane, C.S.C., James V. Quagliano, Thomas D. Luckey, Albert W. Burgstahler, Vincent J. Traynelis, and Richard Pilger.

In the late 40s the special patent arrangement with du Pont organization was terminated, and this permitted the advent of industrial and government support of research projects which are continuing through the present time. The initial support by the Navy Department in 1947 of the radiation project was culminated in 1962 by the grant from the Atomic Energy Commission to erect the new Radiation Research Building; Dr. Milton Burton is presently Director of the Radiation Laboratories.

At the present time the Department of Chemistry has 23 faculty members, 21 postdoctoral associates, and 91 graduate students; and there are 72 undergraduate students majoring in chemistry. Research is being conducted in the areas of organic chemistry, physical chemistry, inorganic and analytical chemistry, and biochemistry.

The roster of faculty and research staff members of the Department of Chemistry includes the following persons:

  • Lawrence H. Baldinger, Professor;
  • Rudolph S. Bottei, Assistant Professor;
  • Andrew J. Boyle, Professor;
  • Charles E. Brambel, Professor;
  • Roger K. Bretthauer, Assistant Professor;
  • Milton Burton, Professor;
  • Brother Columba Curran, C.S.C., Professor;
  • G. Frank D'Alelio, Research Professor;
  • James P. Danehy, Associate Professor;
  • Rev. Ralph B. Davis, C.S.C., Associate Professor;
  • Ernest L. Eliel, Professor;
  • Thomas P. Fehlner, Assistant Professor;
  • Jeremiah P. Freeman, Associate Professor;
  • K. Paul Funabashi, Research Scientist, Radiation Laboratory, Visiting Assistant Professor;
  • William H. Hamill, Professor;
  • Robert G. Hayes, Assistant Professor;
  • George F. Hennion, Professor;
  • Robert W. Hentz, Senior Research Scientist, Radiation Laboratory;
  • Emil T. Hofman, Assistant Professor;
  • Angelo A. Lamola, Assistant Professor;
  • Oliver G. Ludwig, Assistant Professor;
  • Peter K. Ludwig, Research Scientist, Radiation Laboratory, Visiting Assistant Professor;
  • John L. Magee, Professor (on leave);
  • Patrick A. McCusker, Professor;
  • Daniel J. Pasto, Assistant Professor;
  • Louis Pierce, Professor;
  • Francis O. Rice, Principal Research Scientist, Radiation Laboratory, Visiting Research Professor;
  • Frederick D. Rossini, Professor;
  • Rev. Joseph L. Walters, C.S.C., Assistant Professor.

The Centennial of Science at Notre Dame 1865-1965 , pg 28.

* Thanks to Barry Snider for identifying two errors in this transcribed article and to Ed Fenlon for notifying Jerry Freeman of the errors. The first National Organic Symposium (NOS) was held in December 1925 (not 1926) at Rochester, NY (not Buffalo, NY).