Personal Recollections of my Experiences in Electroanalytical Chemistry
Fred C. Anson
Originally published in SEAC Newsletter, 3(3), October 1986
Ralph Adams’ engaging personal account of the people and events that were helping to shape electroanalytical chemistry in the early fifties has prompted me to respond to the Editor’s request for a short article describing some of the people and events that contributed to my interest in electroanalytical chemistry and those who practice it. My first electroanalytical mentor was Ernest H. Swift who introduced a naïve young sophomore to the rigors of quantitative analysis and to the elegance of coulometric titrations and amperometric end points. I spent considerable time as an undergraduate pursuing small research projects in Prof. Swift’s laboratory and when it came time to choose a graduate school I naturally talked with him about my interest in electroanalytical chemistry. As I recall, Prof. Swift recommended that I consider carefully joining the research group of I.M. Kolthoff at Minnesota, N.H. Furman at Princeton and H.A. Laitinen at Illinois. The first edition of J.J. Lingane’s book Electroanalytical Chemistry had been published the previous year and had impressed Prof. Swift quite favorably. He said that it would also be well for me to consider going to Harvard to work with Lingane. Lingane’s book appealed to me as did the thought of attending a hoary ivy league university in the east after four years at the west coast Institute of Technology, so I boarded a Greyhound bus in California and rode it all the way to Boston.
The atmosphere in the Harvard-MIT environment in general, and in Lingane’s group in particular, proved to be quite interesting and stimulating. Arnold Hartley and Ray Iwamoto were the senior Lingane students who taught three new group members (Don Davis, John Kennedy and me) what Prof. Lingane expected us to accomplish. There was also considerable interaction with the groups of Buck Rogers and Dave Hume at MIT and I remember my first encounter with a brilliant and cocky young MIT student named Reinmuth. We became good friends and spent many hours arguing about electroanalytical topics. Paul Delahay’s book, New Instrumental Methods in Electrochemistry had just come out and we all read it, reread it and helped each other through the more difficult parts.
Lingane’s laboratories were housed in the oldest building in the Harvard chemistry department. The old wood cabinets contained original chemical samples purified by T.W. Richards and that conveyed a convincing feeling of what it must have been like to do chemical research in the first half of the century. The lack of air conditioning was annoying during humid weather but the lack of modern instrumentation was more difficult to manage. Prof. Lingane believed that the construction of one’s own apparatus was invaluable training and we all received ample opportunities to be trained. The only pen and ink recorder available was that on the Sargent Model XXI Polarograph and the only oscilloscope was an old DuMond X-Y model that required an auxiliary time-base and was unbearably unstable. We students eventually persuaded Prof. Lingane to purchase a general purpose recorder and I still recall the excitement with which we all witnessed the arrival of the group’s first Varian G-10 strip chart recorder.
If we felt somewhat deprived in terms of equipment, the richness of the interactions with other students and colleagues more than compensated. Allen Bard joined Lingane’s group a year later when his original intentions were thwarted by Harvard’s decision not to retain a young inorganic chemist named Wilkinson. Al was a spicy addition to the group and subsequent discussions of research, the current literature and the future of electroanalytical chemistry benefited accordingly.
The first technical meeting I remember attending was the Pittsburgh Conference in 1955 which was held in Pittsburgh! A group of Harvard and MIT analytical students drove to Pittsburgh to attend the meeting. The instrumentation on display was stunning and I’m sure this experience was partly responsible for our efforts to persuade Prof. Lingane to add to his store of newer instruments.
In the summer of 1956, Prof. Lingane encouraged me to attend the Gordon Conference on Analytical Chemistry at New Hampton School in New Hampshire. It was a revelation for me. Almost all the "famous" electroanalytical chemists attended and the informal discussions were wonderful to witness and even, occasionally, to join. This experience was so rewarding that I have always regretted the lack of opportunities for more than a few graduate students to attend Gordon Conferences these days.
I was lucky enough to be completing my studies at Harvard at just the time that Caltech was seeking an Instructor to assist Professors Pauling and Davidson with the freshman chemistry lectures and laboratory. I was delighted to be able to return to my alma mater and I have been very fortunate in the co-workers who have spent time in the group over the years, many of whom have gone on to become prominent members of the electroanalytical community. I have taken considerable pride in the accomplishments of these former group members.
It has also been satisfying to see what has become of the Western Electroanalytical Theoretical Society (WETS) that flowed into existence because of a craving for more opportunities for informal, unstructured, uninhibited, compotation-assisted discussions among electroanalytical chemists in the early sixties. The society first achieved this goal on the sand, at San Clemente, California, and the results were so appealing (if slightly notorious) that the senior distinguished member of the founding group, Ralph (‘Buzz’) Adams, was commissioned to approach the AAAS in an effort to institutionalize (and dignify) the discussions in the form of a Gordon Conference on Electrochemistry. As we all know, Buzz, ably assisted by Dick Buck, was successful; the first such conference held in 1964 at Santa Barbara, has been followed by 22 subsequent conferences.
The success of these yearly conferences reduced the impetus for subsequent discussions under the auspices of WETS although the origins and reputation of the Society continued to be recalled at informal WETS gatherings. SEAC seems to be a natural successor to WETS that is ably serving the objectives of those who created WETS almost 25 years ago. I’m sure that Charlie Reilley, who attended the seminal San Clemente meeting, would agree and it is highly appropriate that an award bearing his name should have been established for administration by SEAC. It also seems fitting that the first four recipients of the Reilley award (Bard, Adams, Anson, Osteryoung) were all active participants in the identification and nurturing of the original objectives of WETS. It is very nice to see the field of electroanalytical chemistry, that I joined 32 years ago, continuing to thrive and attract growing numbers of truly talented young scientists. Professors Swift and Lingane steered me in the right direction three decades ago and I am pleased that both remain emeritus members of the electroanalytical community to whom I can express my gratitude.
Larry R. Faulkner (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), organizer—Introductory Remarks
Peter T. Kissinger (Bioanalytical Systems, Inc.)—Presentation of the 1986 Reilley Award
Award Address: Fred C. Anson (California Institute of Technology)—Structural Effects in the Electrochemical Behavior of Polyelectrolyte Coatings on Graphite Electrodes
B. Stanley Pons (University of Utah)—Vibrational Spectroelectrochemistry
Garry A. Rechnitz (University of Delaware)—Biosensors: Asking Questions of Nature
Dennis C. Johnson (Iowa State University)—The Quest for a Universal Anodic Detector
R. Mark Wightman (Indiana University)—Surface-Modified Microvoltammetric Electrode