Friday, August 12, 2022

Looking at UofC chemistry prof Lother Meyer in 2022; the Dembe story

While I was on a "zoon like" meeting comprised of former residents of Shorey House at the University of Chicago, the topic of UC chemistry prof Lothar Meyer arose. He had been an advisor to an undergrad member of our group.

Not fully appreciated was a "Lother Meyer" story that arose long after his death. The Chicago Maroon covered this story in 2019 with a headline

Grey City Seven Times Over: Life Along The Way to a Ph.D.
Not everyone who comes to the University of Chicago for a degree leaves with one.


One should read the full article, but the gist is that a (female) grad student finally got a Ph.D. more than 50 years after the work in the 1960s.

Here is a portion

Chemistry professor Philippe Guyot-Sionnest was one of the people tasked with this recommendation, along with Greg Engel, following Dembe’s most recent outreach to the University in 2018. He said that translating these notebooks of a doctoral candidate in 1971 into a recommendation for 2019 was a challenge, and he was initially skeptical that Dembe could get a Ph.D. 50 years after the fact. It wasn’t the lack of automation, he said—computers don’t generate knowledge—but Dembe had “no thesis, not even a manuscript of a thesis,” and besides, obtaining a doctorate in three years is virtually unheard of. “I expected there’s no way. I don’t believe anybody would give a Ph.D. to a person in two and a half years,” he said. But after finding that Lothar Meyer, Dembe’s adviser before his death, regularly graduated students in three years and looking at the work he and Dembe had pursued, Guyot-Sionnest’s skepticism began to fade. “It was an experiment that could be very, very cool. She was working on cooling liquid helium-3 to the lowest possible temperatures not knowing what they could expect to find but looking for the lowest temperature and some properties of magnetization. So they developed the technology and you could see in the notebook, the progression of the experiment, and it was clear they were making progress,” he said. A year after Dembe dropped out of UChicago, a Cornell team working on the same problem got what Guyot-Sionnest described as an “exciting result,” for which they later received the Nobel. Dembe wasn’t far off from the same result when she stopped her research.

Separately, as a "carbon" person, I note that Lothar Meyer also worked in carbon.


Nancy Colloquium on the Mechanism of Carbon Combustion, September 27-30, 1949



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