Alum Donates Piece of History to the Department of Chemistry

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10 January 2019

A piece of Penn State history recently found a home in the Department of Chemistry. Alum Roy L. Schuyler donated a copy of Frank C. Whitmore’s groundbreaking 1937 textbook, Organic Chemistry to the department. The book, which contains a signed photo by the author himself, is a classic chemistry text, and its publication was of one of Whitmore’s many accomplishments while teaching and working at Penn State.

After serving as the head of the chemistry department at Northwestern University, Whitmore—a prominent chemist—came to Penn State in 1929 at the invitation of Gerald Wendt, dean of the School of Chemistry and Physics. After Wendt’s departure later that year, Whitmore became the dean and went on to teach and conduct research at the University from 1929 until the end of his life in 1947. During his time at Penn State, he mentored generations of young scientists, directing 118 Ph.D. students and developing a reputation as an inspirational leader. He was well-known for advising former students on personal and professional problems and for his commitment to helping his students succeed. Famously, he began each class he taught by asking students to write him a letter about why they were taking the course and what they hoped to take away from it. He then wrote a multi-page response to each student.

Today, Whitmore is best-known for developing the concept of a carbocation in 1932 and providing the first explanation of carbocation rearrangements. His research helped scientists make advancements in many areas, including understanding how cholesterol operates within the human body and developing a process to make higher octane gasoline. For his achievements, Whitmore was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and later served as the President of the American Chemical Society. Upon his death, the ACS passed a resolution calling his contribution to science “immeasurable.”

Whitmore’s landmark text, Organic Chemistry, was first published in 1937, and was one of the most important organic chemistry textbooks of its time.  

The signed copy generously donated by Schuyler belonged to Schuyler’s mother, Delcena Crabtree Schuyler. Aside from the significance of the book, Crabtree Schuyler herself represents an important chapter of Penn State history. As her son notes, she was “an academic pioneer.” She came to Penn State in 1933 to earn a Master’s Degree while working under the celebrated chemist Mary Louisa Willard and continued on as a Ph.D. student. In 1937, Crabtree Schuyler became one of the first women to be awarded a Ph.D. in Chemistry by Penn State, and likely the first with a specialization in organic chemistry. While studying as an undergraduate at Wilson College, she helped Whitmore with work on his book and is even acknowledged in the book’s preface for her help in “the arduous task of sorting the forty-nine thousand index slips.”

After graduation, Crabtree Schuyler joined Standard Oil of New Jersey and was transferred to the firm's headquarters in NY a year later, where she translated scientific journals from German to English. She remained involved in academia throughout her life as a member of the American Association of University Women. Her important contributions to the field of chemistry are remembered by her family and the Penn State community.

Penn State also remembers Whitmore’s contributions to science with Whitmore Laboratory, which was named in his honor. Although the building was constructed in the 1953, it recently underwent major renovations to update the building’s aging and insufficient facilities, transforming it into a state-of-the-art facility. The laboratory is home to chemistry labs for undergraduate introductory and advanced studies and serves approximately 7,000 students a year. The renovation ensures that future generations of Penn State scientists will be able to continue making important and innovative discoveries, just as Whitmore did.

The Department of Chemistry thanks Roy Schuyler for his generosity and is excited to provide a home for such an important piece of Penn State history. Not only does the donation bring to mind the accomplishments of pioneers like Crabtree Schuyler and Whitmore, it represents the department’s long tradition of excellence and continuing commitment to innovation.

 

Maria Landschoot

Communications Coordinator

Department of Chemistry

Penn State University

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