Southern Arizona Local Section

American Chemical Society

History and Reminiscences

 This page contains anecdotes of events and people involved with our ACS local section or with chemistry in Southern Arizona in general.  Contributions of any length are welcome for this informal archive. 

Contributions from fifty and sixty year members would be especially welcome, but any articles with interesting stories, anecdotes, histories, or event descriptions would be appreciated.

Please send the material to the webmaster address in the contact us heading.


Here are a few contributions:


The Sixties


When I emerged from the cocoon of graduate school, I found myself in the sixties.  Furthermore, I had suddenly become a member of the establishment!  Not only was I in an almost foreign and alien time without the comfort of friendships grown over the graduate school years, I was shaken by the implications of the three year academic contract and the extreme uncertainty of life without tenure.  What shook me most was the summary dismissal of several assistant professors hired but one year before me!  I quickly learned how not to rock the boat and keep a low profile.


The sixties was a unique period of time.  People looked, dressed, talked, and behaved in ways I had never seen. 


The University of Arizona never experienced the violent events occurring at other universities and colleges.  No buildings burned and no bombs exploded.  A high point that I remember was the visit to campus of none other than Jerry Ruben, one of the great agitators of the time.  He gave a revolutionary pep-talk, and a few days later Old Main was invaded and occupied by a student mob in a spasm of civil disobedience.  From behind their barricades the students issued demands for the cessation of the war and threatened to put the wooden structure to the torch. The students gave up their fortress after several tense days of negotiation, but the war continued unabated .


Another popular mode of protest was the student strike.  This was common at many schools and one was called at the University of Arizona in 1969 (as I remember).  At that time I was teaching an honors-level first year chemistry course.  The students were really the best and the brightest and the most goal oriented.  My favorite memory is their request on the eve of the strike to cancel class so they could participate in the event.  I explained that this was counter to the true spirit of a strike.  I did not cancel class.  I had full attendance the next day. 

Philip Keller


Southern Arizona ACS Local Section


I retired from the UA Chemistry Department in 2008.  In 2009 I thought I might like to be more active in the local ACS section and let this be known to a couple of officers.  Immediately I was told, “Fine, you can be chair!”  I was put on the next ballot and in 2010 I found myself chair-elect after winning a landslide election of 14-0, a clear mandate.  I was chair in 2011 and in 2012 became past chair with all the rights and privileges of that position.


Actually, few know that I was also local section chair in 1968.  At that time I was in the fragile position of being without tenure.  The offer of the opportunity for prestigious public service was one you cannot refuse.  It was not a hard job.  I remember only two dinner speakers from the period.  One was Dr. Bart Bok, director of the Steward Observatory; the other was a professor of viticulture and oenology (grapes and wine) from UC Davis.  He told us that Arizona would never produce drinkable wine.  Those who attended the dinner meeting on the Arizona wine industry in 2010 will appreciate the irony of that remark.

Philip Keller


Who Was That Masked Man?

 In September 1957 my wife Jean and I moved to Tucson.  I had just been appointed Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Arizona.  We were looking forward to our new environment with eagerness and curiosity.  How would Tucson differ from Los Angeles?  A lot?

The contrast between metropolitan Los Angeles and the small town of Tucson was stark.  The rush of traffic was non-existent as was the sight of the Pacific Ocean.  Saguaro cacti dominated residential landscaping, whereas evergreens and palm trees shaded Los Angeles streets.  However, in central Tucson the houses were very typical of the 1920s stucco Los Angeles homes.  Like most southwestern towns, all homes were single story.

But most unusual was the political comparison between California and Arizona.  It struck us dramatically one afternoon as Jean and I were strolling across the university campus.  We spotted an elderly gentleman sitting alone on a bench by Old Main.  He was dressed in a straw hat, boots, and Levis.  We sat beside him and started a conversation.

"Are you new here?" he asked.

We said yes and explained that I was just starting as an assistant professor of chemistry.  I added:

"My name is Cornelius Steelink.  This is my wife Jean."

"Glad to meet you," he repsonded.  "My name is McFarland."

"And what do you do, sir?" I asked.

"I am governor of Arizona," he said.

And there he was: Governor Ernest McFarland (1954 to 1958).  No body guards.  No entourage.  No newspaper reporters.

Arizona was truly a different state from California.

 Cornelius Steelink


The Case of the Wandering Microphone

In the early 1070s, a major technological advance took place in the lecture hall of the Old Chemistry Building at the UA. A cordless microphone was installed! No longer did the lecturer have to untangle himself or herself from the cord connecting the microphone to the amplifier. Now, he or she could roam around the lecture hall unhampered. There was only one risk: the lecturer might forget the portable microphone and walk away with it. Worse yet, the microphone might be left on. Here is a true story about such an occurrence.

I was due to give a lecture at 9AM and entered the hall just after Professor Schmidt left from his 8:00 AM class. Unable to find the microphone, I explained to the class that the microphone had left, attached to the previous speaker. I requested the students to as quiet as possible, so that they could hear my voice without the benefit of amplification.

For a few minutes, there was relative silence. Then the room was filled with the sound of trickling water. Everyone in the class was puzzled. Then came the loud roar of a urinal being flushed. A wave of recognition swept the class. Students broke into laughter, started clapping and stomping their feet.

Eventually, the merriment subsided and I resumed my lecture. All of a sudden, there was a second round of laughter. The students started pointing to the door behind me. Through the barely opened door, a hand had protruded holding a portable microphone. I grabbed the microphone and strode to the podium. The hand of the bladder-challenged Professor Schmidt quickly disappeared. Uncontrolled spasms of laughter interrupted the rest of the 45 minute lecture.

Many students remembered that lecture. Few recalled the content.

Cornelius Steelink 



My one faculty memory is that of Carl “Speed” Marvel.  He was the most internationally honored and famous of the chemistry faculty.  He was the recipient of the Priestly Medal, the highest chemistry award given in the United States.  He was a senior member of the department when I arrived in 1966.  I was terrified of him. Around 1968 I was killing time chatting in the hall with another rookie assistant professor when we saw Carl Marvel leave his office and head in our direction.  We stopped talking and virtually pressed ourselves back against the wall to make room for the approaching giant of chemical science.  To our horror he stopped, turned toward us (we were cowering) and said, “When are you two going to make something of yourselves?”  We were speechless.  He laughed and said, “When I was a grad student, my old research director used to ask me that.  He scared the hell out of me!”  He turned and continued his way down the hall chuckling.


Philip Keller




This was an event you never forget.  I had a large lecture class on the morning of the next day.  The students were pretty shaken; unfortunately I had no calming words of wisdom to open my lecture.  I wish I had.  Best I could manage were some platitudes about carrying on with life.


The next day there was a large meeting on the mall conducted jointly by a local Jewish rabbi and a Muslim imam.  It was moving to hear the two speak on mutual respect and understanding.  Both offered prayers for the victims of the attack. 


Some of the Muslim students in my class left the country in fear of reprisals.


The next day large blank panels were placed on the mall for all to write personal feelings upon.  The response was so great that more panels had to be put up.  The commentaries included statements of grief, prayers for the victims, prayers for America, outpourings of rage, cries for massive revenge and retaliation, and even a few that said we had it coming.  All of course were anonymous.  I don’t know what happened to those panels.  I wonder if they still exist.


Philip Keller


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