Biography and History

The Department of Chemistry at Princeton University dates back to the early days of the College of New Jersey, and today it is one of the University's largest undergraduate concentrations. The department's roots began with the appointment of Professor of Chemistry and Natural History John Maclean in 1795. A required subject for all students, by the early 20th century Princeton had distinguished itself as one of the world's foremost centers for research and teaching in chemistry. The creation of the Frick laboratory in 1929 brought Princeton's chemistry program into the modern age at a pace well ahead that of many other American institutions. Today the Department of Chemistry has a faculty of over 30, and it offers concentrations in the areas organic and inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, materials science and theory.

The research activities documented in this collection were performed at the Analytical Group under the direction of Professor N. H. Furman. This activity was organized under the “Madison Square Area” of the “Manhattan District, Corps of Engineers,” which was tasked with identifying sources of uranium for the first nuclear weapons.

The group's research related mainly to the detection of uranium in ores, and purification of uranium concentrates. The group focused primarily on two analytical methods: polarography, an electrolytic method using a mercury electrode; and wet methods using the reagent cupferron [NH4[C6H5N(O)NO]. The methods were used in evaluating the uranium content in ore or salt samples from a variety of locations and laboratories. A significant number of the measurements were done in parallel to measurements at other analytical laboratories using different analytical methods, especially to measurements done at the National Bureau of Standards. Princeton researchers also investigated methods for measuring trace amounts of contaminants in uranium concentrates, including arsenic, boron, cadmium, chlorine, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, nitrogen, titanium, and vanadium.

Work appears to be directed mainly towards assisting in the discovery of uranium ores, especially in the United States (at the time, most of the uranium came from sources in Africa). Work also facilitated the purification of uranium, including the removal of neutron-absorbing elements. It was evident after nuclear weapons were dropped on Japan and the intent of the Manhattan project was made clear that some of these elements were neutron absorbers and detrimental to the operation of a nuclear explosive device. Research at Princeton continued after the war under the joint leadership of Furman and his former student, Clark E. Bricker, until at least 1952 under a U.S. Atomic Energy Commission project labeled “Fundamental Analytical Chemistry,” project number AT-(30-1)-937 Scope I.

Source: From the finding aid for AC358

  • Department of Chemistry Records. 1893-2009 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC358

    The Department of Chemistry at Princeton University dates back to the early days of the College of New Jersey, and today it is one of the University's largest undergraduate concentrations. The collection contains examinations and grade books, records pertaining to chemistry research performed at the department in support of the U.S. Manhattan project and departmental records.

  • Department of Chemistry Records. 1893-2009 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC358

    The Department of Chemistry at Princeton University dates back to the early days of the College of New Jersey, and today it is one of the University's largest undergraduate concentrations. The collection contains examinations and grade books, records pertaining to chemistry research performed at the department in support of the U.S. Manhattan project and departmental records.

  • Hugh S. Taylor Papers. 1911-1972 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0563

    Consists of articles, correspondence, and printed matter of Hugh S.Taylor, chairman of the Princeton Chemistry Department (1926-1951) and dean of the graduate school (1945-1958).