While I was assembling and cataloguing the Archive of the Chemistry Department's collection of antique equipment, books, and papers, I was reminded of the number of pioneering research achievements of our faculty over the past decades that had changed the course of chemistry or had fundamentally altered the way we think about our discipline. I felt that I would like to publicize these pioneering accomplishments, which I decided to call our Departmental "FIRSTS", as widely as possible by videotaping the individual faculty members responsible for such advances relating the stories and backgrounds leading to their breakthroughs.
I wanted to avoid formal presentations of results, as given in papers or lectures, in order to present viewers with a human perspective, both oral and visual, of the stories behind these remarkable advances and of the insights leading to them. Also, I hoped that the talks would illustrate the unexpected, often serendipitous, factors that can open up great research opportunities. Accordingly, I asked the faculty members to give narrative, anecdotal, accounts of the events leading to their pioneering discoveries, of how the ideas came to them, to identify eureka moments, and describing any difficulties, opposition, etc. that their out-of-the-box results elicited. In order to enable the speakers to go directly to presenting their accounts, in each case I have taken a minute or so at the beginning to give a biographical perspective.
The presentations included so far represent only the beginning, and more will be added in the future, especially as the Department.s pioneering and frontier research continues and expands. Since the areas of chemistry are so broad and diverse, I am not as familiar as I would like with all aspects of them, so suggestions of other pioneering, discipline changing, discoveries fitting the FIRSTS criteria are welcomed.
Regrettably, two of the faculty whose breakthroughs I wanted to document died some years ago. However, in these cases I had been their colleague for many years and so was familiar with their work as it developed and of the challenges they had encountered. Therefore, with help of their students and other colleagues, in these cases I have done my best to present personal accounts, as I saw them, of the events leading to their discipline-changing discoveries, while recognizing that my versions are very inadequate substitutes for what they themselves would have been able to tell us.
With the focus of this series on research or discoveries that in themselves changed the course of chemistry, I regret that I could not include accounts of the researches of the many faculty whose cumulative career contributions represent outstanding bodies of work, since relating long term lifetime achievements is not amenable to the short video format of this "FIRSTS" series. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize strongly that it is the aggregate of all the outstanding research of our faculty, and their graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, that has propelled our Department into the top world rankings.
You may notice that there are technical deficiencies in the video clips. This is because I wanted to film each person in their laboratory or office under ambient conditions, rather than in the controlled, but artificial, environment of a studio. Chemistry departments are inherently noisy, echo chamber-like places where the lighting is of uneven quality, and these defects are only partially correctable by software. I hope that you will overlook these shortcomings and not let them detract from your viewings of the presentations.
J. Bryan Jones
University Professor Emeritus