Royce W. Murray
Originally published in SEAC Communications, 7(4), November 1989
My reminiscent ruminations invariably turn to thoughts of the wonderful people who have been important in my professional life and to how lucky I have been in that regard. These people were my father, my college teachers, Don DeFord and Dick Bowers, Charlie Reilley, and a cast of fantastic graduate student colleagues. At the risk of too much sentiment, I’m going to say something about each…
My father as a youngster went from Texas to California in a covered wagon, but the Texas Murrays decided that was a mistake and soon went home to Eastland County, Texas. He was a hunter-trapper as a teen and an oil field roustabout as a young man. Helping out on the rigs, he learned how to rewind burned-out electrical motors, and eventually wound up in Birmingham, Alabama, to work for the Alabama Power Company, and moved into a boarding house run by grandmother. He got around on a fast Harley, but after he broke both legs (for the second time) riding it fast, he gave it up in favor of marrying my Mom. So I began.
Dad had only a high school education, but developed his knowledge along with the electrical industry. He was a perpetual home shop tinkerer and I grew up looking at electrical meters, generators, and lathes, wiring diagrams, and insulating materials. He would rope me regularly into helping him out with this little chore or that in the shop. He knew a little practical chemistry and my first scientific experiment was how high a bit of home-made gunpowder would carry a can. Later on, I would go with him to a large scrapyard in Birmingham—where he did some consulting—and I remember crawling around in the hulks of old B-25’s, scrapped after the War, collecting 50-cal ammo lying around here and there, and that gunpowder would really make the can fly! I don’t know if he realized it, but with that rearing I was fore-ordained to become an electro-chemist!
High school was sort of a period of growing up when I thought my high school chemistry teacher was dull dull dull but years later I realized that he did teach me a lot. Mr. Baranelli, I was an ungrateful oaf, for which I am sorry.
But my college teachers, Professors Smithy, Simmons, Wilcox and Gordon, at Birmingham Southern College were real fertilizer to this southern pumpkin. They were dedicated men, truly. Professor Smithy changed me from a transient excursion into a pre-ministerial program (I did preach a bit from the pulpit then, and Fred Anson once told me after a lecture that I hadn’t lost the knack) into a chemistry major. Professor Harold Wilcox was a special inspiration, and between him and Smithy I decided to be a Professor without even realizing it. Professor Ken Gordon pointed me at Northwestern, and Dick Bowers and Don DeFord, two more great items of luck.
I have nothing but amazed and good memories of my times at Northwestern with super fellow students and Bowers and DeFord as my co-mentors. I think I have never worked so hard and thought it was just fun. Several of the first-year class, including Jay Roberts (of Roberts and Sawyer) and George Ward (of Hercules Chemical) signed up with that duo and were exposed to some of the original op-amps in electrochemistry. We did a lot of tinkering with potential and current control experiments with that equipment, amusing ourselves with chronoamperometry and chronopotentiometry. I remember DeFord coming through the lab with some instrument company people (a well-known company) and hearing them tell Don that they didn’t think this kind of electronics was going anywhere. I remember that we students just laughed rudely and with incredulity. One of my projects was to cover a Hg electrode with a membrane of partly hydrolyzed cellulose triacetate ion-exchanger and observe the voltammetry of metal ions diffusing through it. Bowers was watching when I did the first experiment with the electrode, and upon seeing enhanced currents, Bowers said, with a touch of pleased amazement, "It works!" I don’t think I said anything, but I thought "Of course it works!" Later that day I realized that beforehand he wasn’t sure the experiment would work, and that I the innocent (gullible) student had just learned something important about the uncertainty of research no matter how craftily planned. I periodically remember that insight when I discuss an ambitious experiment with my own students and as well as predicting a cool piece of science also warn (sometimes) of possible and impending failure.
My next piece of good fortune was to come to North Carolina where there were excellent faculty colleagues, even more excellent students, and Charlie Reilley. I will never forget the long long mid-night hours spent with Charlie talking about a myriad of chemistry subjects. No one who has known Charlie has escaped that quiet questioning of his designed to lead you to an answer that afterward, you swear he knew already. I truly miss those mind-teasing interrogations. We had a joint laboratory, named the "Wigwam" (for the Chief’s little Indians), until we moved out of the incredibly crowded Venable Hall premises and into separate labs in Kenan Laboratories which were more spacious. We still shared all our equipment though and although we didn’t publish together very often we and our two groups of students were very close. Charlie left a tradition of attention to the fundamentals in analytical chemistry that I remain very conscious of nurturing.
Finally, the Carolina students. I’ll be brief here, but this is the most important part. UNC is blessed with many good things but to me the best are the fine young men and women that come to us for undergraduate and graduate study. I have had the good fortune to have some of those choose to conduct research investigations with me. I could tell many stories about their progress and development as students and then as young scholars but I never liked my mom showing my baby pictures whenever the relatives gathered and I guess my students might feel likewise. So I’ll just close by thanking them all for being such good colleagues and for continuing to make this Professing job so much fun I (most times) forget it’s work.
Richard L. McCreery (Ohio State University), organizer—Introductory Remarks
Peter T. Kissinger (Bioanalytical Systems, Inc.)—Presentation of the 1988 Reilley Award
Award Address: Royce W. Murray (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)—Electrochemical Voltammetry in Rigid and Semi-rigid Media
Mark E. Meyerhoff (University of Michigan)—Anion and Gas-Selective Membrane Electrodes: Recent Advances and Future Prospects
Larry R. Faulkner (University of Illinois)—Fast Electrochemistry at Microelectrodes
Jiri Janata (University of Utah)—Work Function Chemical Sensors
Richard L. McCreery (Ohio State University)—Raman Spectroscopy of Electrochemical Dynamics: Time-Resolved Probes of Surface and Solution Reactions