After I spent 2 1/2 years in the navy, my young bride and I finished our bachelors degrees, mine as a chemistry major. But I didn’t feel I knew enough to be a real chemist. My adviser suggested several graduate schools for me to consider. I still had almost two years of GI bill remaining. After writing to each I set off to select a school. Having no money, I hitchhiked, not nearly so scary in 1947 because the public had picked up hitchhiking service men all during the war.
My plan was to hitch to three graduate schools including Emory. I didn’t plan well, reaching Lookout Mountain in the middle of the night…but then a got a lift on down to Atlanta. When I walked onto the Emory campus and saw all those beautiful Georgia marble buildings I thought it was heaven. They almost glowed in the sunlight.
Emory’s chemistry graduate program was new with only about a dozen students. After meeting the chemistry faculty and determining our mutual interest it seemed that Emory was the place for me. But where would we live? Before the war it was unheard of for married couples to attend school so our next problem was living accommodations. Emory had provided for the deluge of married couples with trailers on campus and the tar paper covered army barracks on Clifton Rd soon to be known as “mudville”. We were assured of a one-bedroom apartment (at a cost of $17 per month, with army bunks and an ample supply of cockroaches).
The chemistry department’s budget was very sparse in 1947. Vessels fitted with ground glass connectors were scarce. So we used rubber connectors. Potentiometers and heating mantles were given, one to each organic researcher. We made our own distillation columns from glass tubes filled with glass beads. Ground glass equipment gradually became available. Each of us had to build our own carbon/hydrogen analysis train to substantiate the new chemical compositions we were synthesizing.
I began my masters research, on an organic chemical reaction involving bromine. The problem was the chemical hoods had no draft to draw off the fumes…so I ran a rubber tube out the window. The clearest indicator of my research was the growing orange bromine stain on the outside marble window ledge.
Our organic research labs were on the first floor, you know, one flight up the grooved marble steps, just below the analytical labs identified by the perpetual rotten egg odor.
Our manometers were filled with mercury. And our stirrers were also sealed from air with mercury. As a consequence of these homemade devices there was always a puddle of mercury in the water troughs used to channel the cooling water from the distillation columns. No problem.
The hood problem became more difficult during my doctorate research. The work involved butyric, valeric, and isovaleric acids (which smell like dirty socks, rancid meat and dog poop.) My wife always made me take off my clothes before entering the apartment and when I stood in a line at the store everyone began sniffing their arm pits and looking in every corner for a “deposit.”
My wife worked as a secretary to the Emory admissions director in the building next to the chemistry building. We walked back and forth to Mudville every day… until June 1950 when I finished my PhD just as my GI bill ran out. It was the 5th PhD given by Emory. There was just enough money left in our piggy bank to take the Greyhound to my new job in Ohio.
Our years at Emory were Wonderful and life changing. Our greatest adventure!