Harry George Drickamer, Ph.D.

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Harry George Drickamer (Weidenthal), Ph.D.

Birthdate: (83)
Birthplace: Cleveland, OH, USA
Death: May 6, 2002 (83)
Urbana, Champaign County, Illinois, United States (stroke)
Immediate Family:

Son of Harold George Weidenthal and Louise Weidenthal
Husband of Mae Elizabeth Drickamer
Father of <private> (Drickamer); <private> Drickamer; Private User; <private> (Drickamer) and <private> Atkins (Drickamer)

Occupation: Chemical Engineer, Physical Chemist, University Professor
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Harry George Drickamer, Ph.D.

Prof. Harry George Drickamer (November 19, 1918 – May 6, 2002), born Harold George Weidenthal, was a pioneer experimentalist in high-pressure studies of condensed matter. His work generally concerned understanding the electronic properties of matter.

Drickamer was born in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, to Louise Weidenthal and Harold Weidenthal. His father died when Harry was very young, and after his mother remarried, Harry’s stepfather adopted him. After graduating early from public schools in East Cleveland, he played minor league professional baseball in the Cleveland Indians farm system, then entered Vanderbilt University on a football scholarship. He soon transferred to Indiana University and then to the University of Michigan, where he received a B.S. in chemical engineering in 1941 and master's degree one year later.

In 1942 Drickamer began work at the Pan American Refinery in Texas City, Texas. After his fellow students played a prank by forging his name on a signup sheet for the Ph.D. qualifying exam in chemical engineering, he decided to take the 16-hour exam. After he started work in Texas, he received word that he had passed. He then combined work with study of physics and quantum mechanics, and in February 1946 returned to the University of Michigan for one term to receive his Ph.D.

Drickamer joined the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he subsequently remained for his entire professional career. After his initial appointment as an assistant professor of chemical engineering in 1946, he was promoted to associate professor in 1949 and to full professor in 1953. In 1958 he was appointed professor of chemical engineering and physical chemistry, and in 1983 he became professor of chemical engineering, chemistry, and physics.

During the course of his career, Drickamer was awarded a number of professional honors including: 1947 Coburn Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers; 1956 Ipatieff Prize, American Chemical Society; 1965 Member of the National Academy of Sciences; 1967 Oliver E. Buckley Solid-State Physics Award, American Physical Society; 1967 Alpha Chi Sigma Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers; 1968 Victor Bendix Award, American Society for Engineering Education; 1970 Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; 1972 William H. Walker Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers; 1974 Irving Langmuir Award in Chemical Physics, American Chemical Society; 1977 P. W. Bridgman Award, International Association for the Advancement of High Pressure Science and Technology; 1978 Michelson-Morley Award, Case Western Reserve University; 1979 Member of the National Academy of Engineering; 1983 Member of the American Philosophical Society; 1983 Chemical Pioneers Award, American Institute of Chemists; 1984 John Scott Award, City of Philadelphia; 1985 Outstanding Materials Chemistry, U.S. Department of Energy; 1986 Alexander von Humboldt Award, Federal Republic of Germany; 1987 Robert E. Welch Prize in Chemistry; and the 1987 Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry, American Chemical Society. He was awarded the National Medal of Science by President George H. W. Bush on October 18, 1989.

Drickamer died of stroke on May 6, 2002, in Urbana. In honor of his outstanding achievements and hard work, one graduate student every year at Illinois from either Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Chemistry, or Physics will be awarded the Harry G. Drickamer Research Fellowship via the Drickamer Fund.

Harry is the father of esteemed biochemist Kurt Drickamer, discoverer of C-type Lectins


photo Harry Drickamer

Biographies SCS Memorial Physics Today Bio by Charles Slichter Drickamer Students Alphabetical Order Year of Degree Order Harry Drickamer Fellowship

Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Department of Chemistry

Department of Physics

Harry Drickamer Symposium, May 15, 2003 Harry G. Drickamer 19 November 1918 - 6 May 2002

In studying matter, scientists do many things. They measure weights and dimensions. They heat substances or cool them, shine light on them (or through them), stretch them or squeeze them. Harry Drickamer was a master at squeezing matter to tease scientific information from nature.

One of the most famous practitioners of this art, who many would call its father, was Percy Williams Bridgman, Professor of Physics at Harvard University. He developed methods of subjecting samples to very high pressures and used these methods to explore the properties of many materials. For this pioneering work, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1946. He virtually singled handedly created a field of research, the effect of very high pressure on the properties of matter.

The International Association for the Advancement of High Pressure Science and Technology (AIRAPT), formed some years after Bridgman's death, instituted a prize in his honor. In 1977, Harry G. Drickamer became the first recipient of the Percy Williams Bridgman Award. In his remarks on the occasion of the award Harry said "Many people have asked me whether I was a student of Bridgman. Formally, of course, I was not. However, in a very real sense we all are students of Bridgman. We all share his enthusiasm for high pressure research. We can all hope to reflect something of his intellectual honesty. Today we still use his techniques, or modifications and extensions of those he developed….Today, fourteen years after his death, his spirit and his ideas still permeate the field. Seldom, if ever, has one man been so significant for any important area of research".

Continuing he said: "At the same time I'm sure Professor Bridgman would be most pleased to see the extent to which high pressure has become an integral and essential technique in modern physics, chemistry, geology, engineering, and biology". No one did more to spread this influence than Harry Drickamer. While it is true that Bridgman established the essential techniques for achieving high pressure, Drickamer did a great deal to extend the types of quantities one could measure. But his most important contribution was to change the nature of the investigations. Bridgman was a classical physicist interested mostly in macroscopic studies. Drickamer led the revolution which made high pressure so broadly interesting in modern science, demonstrating its power to measure electronic and molecular properties.

Drickamer recognized that most of the interesting properties of matter are determined by the electrons in the outer shells of the atoms of which the material is made, and how these electrons are influenced by interaction with the electrons of the atoms with which they make contact. These are the electrons responsible for chemical bonds. If one changes the distance between atoms, for example by applying external pressure, these interactions must change and as a result the physical and chemical properties must change. The character of the changes then contains information about the nature of the outer electrons and their interaction with neighboring atoms. Thus, he found that by squeezing solid iodine he could change it from being an electrical insulator at normal pressure to an electrical conductor at high pressure. In this manner he studied electrical insulators, semiconductors, and metals, solids and liquids, revealing the interaction of the outer electrons of the constituent atoms with their surroundings as he squeezed the atoms closer together at high pressure. He called this approach "pressure tuning spectroscopy". He used that technique to study a wide range of problems of importance in modern physics, chemistry, geology, engineering, and biology.

Drickamer was born Harold George Weidenthal in Cleveland, Ohio to Harold Weidenthal and Louise (Strempel) Weidenthal. His father died when he was 3. Some 10 years later, his mother remarried and Harry was adopted by his stepfather, George Drickamer. Harry attended public school in East Cleveland. At that time, his interest was very much in sports, initially baseball. After graduating from high school, he played on a minor league team of the Cleveland Indians farm system for a short time. He later explained that it was here that he became aware of the great difference in talent possessed by different people, observing that compared to most good players, those destined for the Big Leagues displayed a talent that belonged both literally and figuratively to a different league. Abandoning baseball, he stayed home and read for a good part of a year. Then, he went to Vanderbilt University on a football scholarship. As a result of an injury, he transferred to the University of Indiana, then to the University of Michigan where he enrolled in Chemical Engineering. Here he thrived. He was elected President of his Engineering College Class.

After earning his bachelors degree in 1941, he continued at Michigan, getting a masters degree in Chemical Engineering a year later. During this time he met his future wife, Mae Elizabeth McFillen, who was studying nursing at the University of Michigan. With the war on, he accepted a position with the Pan American Refining Corporation in Texas City, Texas. Just before he left Michigan, however, some of his fellow students played a joke on him. The PhD qualify exam in Chemical Engineering was a dreaded barrier to the PhD. His "friends" forged his name on the sign-up sheet of those students who wished to take the examination. When Harry discovered this prank, he was faced with a dilemma since he had not contemplated getting a PhD. But the gauntlet had been thrown down! So he took the exam and, as he said, somewhat to his surprise he passed. He then left for Texas where shortly thereafter he and Mae Elizabeth were married.

At that time, Harry had been thinking about possibly going to law school after the war. However, one of the other workers at the Pan American Lab was a physicist, Harry H. Hummel, from the University of Wisconsin. He encouraged Harry to read his physics books. Harry found them so fascinating that he thought about going into physics but eventually decided that he would have too much course work to take were he to make such a major switch. The experience gave him the resolve to get a PhD in Chemical Engineering. He worked nights and weekends to put together the research for a thesis that he submitted at the end of the war. His thesis, "Vapor-Liquid Equilibria in Phenol-Hydrocarbon Systems and Their Application to a Conventional Toluene Unit" was prepared under the guidance of George Brown and Robert White. Harry received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1946. For the rest of his scientific career, however, there was always a strong physics flavor to his research. Indeed, in 1967 he received the Oliver E. Buckley Award in Condensed Matter Physics of the American Physical Society, the highest award the Society gives for work in condensed matter research. He is one of only two chemists to be so honored since the inception of this prize in 1953.

Following completion of his PhD, Harry joined the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana Illinois. At that time, the Head of the Department was the noted organic chemist Roger Adams. The Department was part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS). Adams had built a department of great distinction primarily in the area of organic chemistry. Although there was also a College of Engineering, Chemical Engineering was part of a single LAS Department encompassing both chemistry and chemical engineering. Such an arrangement fit Drickamer's natural style, which was to cross boundaries between disciplines when he had an idea that bridged them, a frequent occurrence. Although his initial appointment in 1946 was as Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, he rapidly advanced to Professor of Chemical Engineering by 1953, then added the title of Professor of Physical Chemistry in 1958. In 1963 he was made Professor in the University's Center for Advanced Study, the highest recognition the University bestows on its faculty. In 1983 he became Center for Advanced Study Professor of Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, and Physics. His PhD students were drawn from all three departments.

Drickamer's first work at Illinois in 1946 focused on the study of diffusion in liquids. In 1949 he published a paper titled "The Effect of Pressure on the Thermal Diffusion Ratio", the first mention of pressure in the title of his papers. This paper was followed soon (1950) by one titled "A High Pressure Fitting for Scintillation Counting," describing apparatus that made possible measurements of radioactivity under pressure. Drickamer had realized that he could study diffusion by using radioactive molecules. He detected the diffusion of radioactive atoms by monitoring the concentration of a radioactive isotope as it changed owing to the diffusion process. He was no doubt stimulated to do this by interactions with his departmental colleague, Robert Duffield, a radio chemist, who was a coauthor of this paper.

This early paper illustrates Harry's approach to science. He was always alert to new techniques that would enable him to measure new quantities (or old quantities better using new methods). Typically he learned of a new technique from the work of a colleague, in this case Bob Duffield. He then proposed a collaboration in which Harry provided the high pressure skills and the colleague the new technique (e.g. measurement of radioactivity). In this way Harry learned the new methods and added them to his bag of tricks. He later used this approach with Hans Frauenfelder and Peter Debrunner to learn how to use the Mossbauer effect to study magnetic phenomena at high pressure, and with Gregorio Weber to study fluorescence of biomolecules under pressure.

Using high pressure, Drickamer investigated a rich variety of materials. Starting in the late 1950s he observed insulator-to-conductor transitions for six elements and over 30 compounds. He observed magnetic transitions in ferrous compounds and in iron (paramagnetic to diamagnetic, and ferromagnetic to paramagnetic). He discovered that radicals were formed in many electron donor-acceptor complexes under pressure and found that those radicals reacted to form new chemical bonds. Starting in the 1980s, his research expanded into protein chemistry, the efficiency of luminescent devices, and organic photochemistry. In the process, he provided tests of a number of important theories, including ligand field theory, Van Vleck's theory of the high-spin to low-spin transition, the Foster-Dexter theory of energy transfer in phosphors, and Mulliken's theory of electron donor-acceptor complexes.

Drickamer received many awards for his work in addition to the Bridgman and Buckley Prizes. A partial list illustrates the variety of institutions that honored him. He received the Ipatieff Prize (1956), the Irving Langmuir Award in Chemical Physics (1974), and the Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry (1987), all from the American Chemical Society. He received the Bendix Research Prize of the American Society for Engineering Education (1968), the John Scott Award from the City of Philadelphia (1984), and the Elliot Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute (1988). Moreover, he received the Welch Prize from the Welch Foundation in 1987 and in 1989 the National Medal of Science. In 1994 he was made a Doctor of Chemical Science, Honoris Causa by the Russian Academy of Science, and two years later was awarded a Gold Medal by the American Institute of Chemists. One honor, which meant a great deal to him, was election to the Royal Society of Chemistry. He especially enjoyed attendance at the meetings of the American Philosophical Society with Mae Elizabeth, never missing the spring meeting.

Harry walked the three miles to and from work six days a week and also exercised on a treadmill at home. He believed in hard work and served as a good example himself. He often joked about it, but hard work was a core value. (His parting remark after encountering a friend was often "Well, I had better get back and flog a few students"). He guided over one hundred PhD students and twenty postdoctoral fellows. Many of his students went on to distinguished careers, becoming well known themselves. Among the major honors these students received were the National Medal of Science, and election to the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. In 1995 Harry's former students raised money for a professorship in his honor, but as was typical of him, he decided that the money would be better spent financing fellowships for graduate students. As was also typical of him, he established Drickamer Fellowships in three departments, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, and Physics. It is noteworthy that contributors to this fund were not limited to his own students, but included others who came to know him when they were students at Illinois.

It was Harry's habit to read history every evening, typically several books at a time. His particular interest was in Greek, Roman, and English history. He regularly visited the University Library to browse in search of history books on his way home from the Chemistry Department. On one occasion his zeal for history got him in trouble. Losing track of time while searching for a book in the library stacks, he was made aware of the time when he suddenly found himself in pitch black, locked in the stacks. The police had to rescue him.

Harry also loved humor, the writings of Mark Twain as well as the movies of W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers. He enjoyed British television and theater, possessing a sizeable repertoire of quotes from Shakespeare with which to spice a discussion. He was a keen judge of human nature, a quality he jokingly attributed in part to his experience as a student in a high school populated with some very tough kids whose intentions on any occasion needed to be judged accurately so that one could outrun them. Feeling that administrators of any sort were his natural enemies, he eyed them with suspicion. He was asked to serve on many committees which evaluated things such as research proposals, appointments to special positions, and the like because his judgment was so incisive and tough-minded. From 1955-1958 he was the head of the Chemistry Department's Division of Chemical Engineering, but the job was not where his heart lay so he soon gave it up. He formed very strong friendships with people he admired and enjoyed. These friends lived in all parts of the world. He was ever mindful of prizes or awards these scientists deserved, and spent a good deal of time preparing the necessary nominations. He was truly a loyal friend.

Despite his many honors, Drickamer remained modest, friendly, and unassuming. Gifted with a wicked sense of humor and a strong propensity to joke, he could make any occasion great fun. Harry's jokes often poked fun at himself. He also retold jokes, so his friends became familiar with a core of Drickamer bon mots. He explained that if he woke up in the night and had trouble getting back to sleep, he solved the problem by just imagining he was listening to a seminar.

Mae Elizabeth and Harry had 5 children, daughters Lynn, Margaret, and Priscilla, and sons Lee and Kurt. After the children were adults, the parents were ever alert to opportunities provided by travel to conferences and meetings to make a side trip to visit their children and grandchildren.

In the fall of 2002, a few months after Harry's death, the School of Chemical Sciences of the University of Illinois celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Noyes Laboratory. The occasion celebrated the many former faculty, students, and their contributions. It was striking that every speaker had a Drickamer story to tell. He was as a major force in his Department, his University, and his profession. But above all, as these stories attested, he was a beloved figure.

Charles P. Slichter Research Professor of Physics University of Illinois http://www.scs.illinois.edu/drickamer/slichter.php

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Harry George Drickamer, Ph.D.'s Timeline

November 19, 1918
Cleveland, OH, USA
May 6, 2002
Age 83
Urbana, Champaign County, Illinois, United States