Ralph N. Adams 
2nd Reilley Award Recipient


Biographical

Professor Ralph N. Adams was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, August 26, 1924. A veteran of World War II, he piloted B-17s and B-29s as a first lieutenant with the U.S. Army Air Corps. He received a B.S. degree in Chemistry from Rutgers University in 1950. He then attended Princeton University where he worked under the direction of the late Professor N. Howell Furman, receiving a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry in 1953. He remained on the faculty at Princeton from 1953-55.

Professor Adams joined the staff of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Kansas in 1955. His research interests until 1969 centered on electro-oxidations at solid electrodes and the mechanisms of organic electrode reactions. In 1964 he was a J. S. Guggenheim Fellow in Zurich, Switzerland, doing research in EPR-electrochemistry at Varian AG and the ETH.

In 1969, the research interests of his laboratory shifted to applying electrochemistry to the problems of the neurosciences. Adams spent a sabbatical leave in the Department of Psychobiology, University of California, Irvine, in 1970, where he received fundamental training in neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, etc. He spent 3 years (1972-75) as an interdisciplinary scholar in the Resident Psychiatry Program at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. Since the 1970's research in Adams' laboratory centered on applications of electroanalytical methods to the neurosciences and neurochemical studies of schizophrenia. Professor Adams formally retired in 1992 but maintained an active resesrch interest for several years afterward.

Adams was awarded the J.S. Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964, Fisher Award in Analytical Chemistry from the American Chemical Society in 1982, C.N. Reilley Award for Electroanalytical Chemistry in 1984, I.M. Kolthoff Gold Medal Award from the American Pharmaceutical Society in 1985, Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke, American Chemical Society National Award in Electrochemistry in 1989 and Oesper Award in 1996. In 1982, Adams was among the first scientists to receive a Higuchi Award for excellence in basic science. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1997.

Professor Adams died November 28, 2002, at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, MO, after a short illness. Dr. Adams is survived by his wife, Virginia Barrett Adams (formerly of Louisville, KY) and daughters, Lisa Boley, Moira Lab and Kristin Adams. Another daughter, Kathryn Adams, died earlier in Lawrence, KS.

Buzz Adams' Reflections 
Originally published in SEAC Newsletter, 2(3), October 1985

Bill Geiger's invitation to recipients of the Charles N. Reilley Award to write a few words for the SEAC Newsletter - "reflections on any topic" as Bill put it, may open the door for a variety of senile ramblings on my part. However, the award presentation at New Orleans did evoke much nostalgia on my part. And so, when the rats outwit me (which is a good part of the time) I turn back to thoughts of the good old days.

They indeed were good days and exciting times when I started my graduate studies with Professor M. Howell Furman at Princeton. Furman's group - consisting of W.D. Cooke and C.N. Reilly - was small but scientifically powerful when the late R.P. Taylor and I joined it in 1950. Cooke was a post-doctoral fellow and C.N. was in his second year of graduate work. They were magnificent old timers to learn from but neither Taylor nor I ever managed to accomplish in a month what those two could pull of in an afternoon. We share a large common lab with Clark Bricker's group: Bill Dippel, J.K. Lee and Bill Schmidt. The lab still had some continuing projects from Furman and Bricker's major contributions to the electroanalytical chemistry of the Manhattan Project. Although the research interests of the whole room ranged from chelate extractions to flame photometry, discussions of electroanalytical methodology dominated the lab and the continuing arguments ran into the night at the Graduate College. (In those days all graduate students lived in a "castle" on the edge of campus - the Graduate College. Grace was in Latin and we wore gowns to dinner every evening. Only when the main dining hall was full could you overflow into the breakfast rooms in more casual attire. We hard-core scientists were usually "late" in arriving from the lab.)

Those lab discussions were stimulating and when they faded they were often revived by sly ponderings by C.N. (I say "sly" because I suspect he knew most of the answers already.) We puzzled over the relationships between potentiometry and current voltage curves and tried to fathom out "reversibility." That may sound laughable today but on must remember most of us didn't know anything about such things then. This was 1951-52 and the contents of Paul Delahay's bible, "New Instrumental Methods in Electrochemistry" didn't appear until 1954 (that's Big Delahay, not to be confused with Little Delahay - Instrumental Analysis," which was published late in 1957).

Dr. Furman would often wander in on one of these discussions, coming from his appointed rounds in the quant lab. (He personally greased stopcocks and helped students get their crucibles to constant weight every afternoon throughout his career.) He seemed to love those sessions and he'd stand quietly in the background and the more we argued, the more he'd smile and nod approvingly. When finally we turned to him for his opinion, he'd invariably preface his remarks with "Well, you fellows certainly know more about this than I do, but I think…" What a crock- the Boss knew everything, we knew that! One of the true giants in analytical chemistry, he was a waling encyclopedia of information, yet he was such an unpretentious and humble scientist. He never demanded nor pushed people to work. If you knew he was interested in something, you somehow just felt you couldn't let him down - you just had to work like the devil to do it right. Later, before I left Princeton, he said, "Buzz, every student is different, but they're just like young birds ready to fly. You just have to let them perch on your hand and puff at each on of the differently - sooner or later they'll fall off and away they'll go."

While very conservative and demanding in his interpretation of results, the Boss encouraged us to work on wild and wooly ideas. He was much in favor of the "let's try it" approach. Try a quick and dirty experiment and if it was promising, then came the careful re-evaluations and refinements. I was much reminded of Furman many years later when we had the honor of having the Nobel laureate Julius Axelrod visit our lab. During discussions with graduate students, he was asked, "Dr. Axelrod, can you characterize for us your approach to research?" Without much pause, this also elegant and unpretentious man said, "Well, I guess I always thought it was better to do an experiment than to not do one."

It was a pretty heady atmosphere to work in Furman's lab in those days. All the great named visited - Hobart Willard, Kolhoff, Lingane and many others. When Don Cooke took off to Cornell and C.N. left for North Carolina I muddled through being the electrochemical guru of the lab for awhile. New people like Bob Dilts, Rudy Bottei and Lou Savegh joined the group. J.K. Lee, as he would put it, "parked around" between Princeton Junction and Hong Kong. I stayed on as an exalted Instructor in analytical chemistry - and began to seriously pursue studies of organic oxidations at solid electrodes. During this time, J.K. Lee, who was supposed to be doing counter-current extractions for Bricker, began bootlegging studies of oxide permation on platinum and gold in my little lab. We were completely unaware of Tall Fred's work with Lingane in this area, but we all ended up contributing something to the troubled state of oxide surfaces on platinum. Professor Furman was president of the ACS about that time. He didn't like that, all the traveling, etc., which didn't leave him enough time to hang around the lab and he was relieved when the year was over. Princeton, apparently embarrassed that they had not so honored an ACS president, then made him chairman of the department. Another year of purgatory!

In 1955, I decided I wasn't too well suited to the Ivy League. Certainly my general comportment and sartorial conservativeness qualified me to stay but I just felt it was time to head down the runway. At Lawrence, shop was set up in a small lab next to my office. My first graduate student, Ted Kuwana, and I shared the minimal equipment - lots of 45 V. batteries and resistors and a L&N pH meter with which we could do potential and current scan voltammetry and chronopotentiometry. The only trouble I had with Ted was that he worked all night in the lab. At that time I came in about 0500 to work till Gini and the kids were up for breakfast. When I arrived resistors would still be warm and Ted bubbling over to tell me what he'd done during the night. I couldn't get my own experiments done! So - we quickly reached a working agreement - I'd come in, we'd just say "hi" and Ted would go sack out and we'd discuss his results later in the afternoon. It is such a delight to have Kuwana rejoin us here in Lawrence. I was so pleased I could present him with a welcoming gift - the same old pegboard battery and resistor circuit he and I used in 1957. I never could toss that out and now I suspect he might still be able to wring another good experiment out of it!

Soon the lab grew and from that period till now there has been a steady succession of outstanding undergraduates, graduate students, technicians, post-doctorals and colleagues in the group. And I must say that they have been an illustrious group - just look around and see what they're doing now. Faraday would snap-roll in his grave if he knew the far-out things they and others are doing in electrochemistry today. My receiving the C.N Reilly award was certainly a tribute to all these people. Like Professor Furman, all I did was stand on the edge of discussions and nudge them along - although, unlike him, it was because I really didn't have much to contribute except the approving nod and smile. And the award is also a real tribute to Gini and my daughters - especially Gini who perservered through all those years with patience and only a bemused smile at the fool in her house who spent all of his non-flying hours worrying about what happened to electrons and who came home besmudged with carbon paste, late for dinner most every day.

There's a 4x8' piece of painted beaver-board in my office that came from Ted's early lab and all the students sign it with their own brand of remarks when they leave. Pete Kissinger wrote "A good experiment made him dance with delight." They've kept me dancing all these years and the jig's not quite up yet.

Ralph Adams and his alumni at reunion weekend in late September 2001.

 




2nd Reilley Award Recipient
Reilley Award Symposium: 26 March 1985
1985 Pittsburgh Conference, 25 March - 1 April 1985, New Orleans