1Conversations from the Hall of Fame Ruth Rogan Benerito, physical chemist, interviewed 2004

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1Conversations from the Hall of Fame
Ruth Rogan Benerito, physical chemist, interviewed 2004
(Time: ~6:54 minutes)
I'm not good with my hands. My mother said she didn't know why I went into chemistry cause I was so terrible with my hands. She was an artist. But I enjoyed it because I like the theories of it. Talking with somebody more talented then you are with the hands to help you out. I think you need a team effort. No two people are alike. If you can use the talents of the people that you are working with each one contributing to what he knows and what he can do.
I don't know really know what interested me in science. I really like mathematics and some how or the other got into chemistry but it wasn't planned I didn't have a desire all my life to be a chemist.
Education and Early Career
I finished Sophie Newcomb College at Tulane University. Did a year of graduate work at Bryn Mawr then got a master's at Tulane and a PhD from the University of Chicago.
I love Chicago. I was there at the time of the Manhattan Project when they were trying to do the atomic bomb it had the greatest accumulation of Nobel laureates there.
And so I had an excellent background and teaching because all the people there to work on the atomic bomb even those from Europe were at Chicago and took quality teaching and it was a very small student body. Sometimes you were only one or two in a class and I was in the biggest class like 10-15 so you got to know the professors and they got to know you. So it was a good education I was well grounded because I was taught even at Bryn Mawr and Chicago by the greatest chemists of the last century. I think that's what gave me such a good background in chemistry.
I was teaching the whole time during World War II. First of all, when I graduated from Newcomb it was depression days and it was almost impossible for a women to get a job much less a man, men had hard times. So I did social work for a year finally I did high school teaching and then I got into college. So all during the war and for 13 years I was a professor at Tulane University and would teach there all year long. In the summer Chicago had a quarter basis and my father moved to Chicago he was with the Illinois Central Railroad so by chance I could go to Chicago every summer and they had the quarter system and that's how I got my degree by going to Chicago in the summer.

Joining ARS
I came to ARS because after the war they began hiring men and I was teaching in the graduate school and undergraduate school, the engineering school, had a heavy schedule, did research, did more then the men did and graduated the University of Chicago but the men got increases in salary and I didn't.
So I said I wanted an increase in salary they got a new dean so he said well we'll have to wait a while till we get to know you better cause I don't know you. So I said I've been here 13 years if you don't know me now you'll never know me. So I quit.
In the meantime, I was working at the laboratory in the summer time. I had married so I didn't go to Chicago any more in the summer.

But I had a job and I taught a lot of chemists and physicists that worked at the lab they knew me and they wanted me to come out there and work so I went out there to work. Was there for 33 years.

Love of Teaching
And at the mean time I keep on teaching when they found out I was leaving Tulane, the graduate school and the school of engineering and the medical school wanted me to come back and teach so I got a part time teaching position at Tulane Medical School and taught there the whole time I was at the laboratory. So I'm a professor emeritus at the Tulane Medical School.
After I retired in 86 I continued teaching at the University of New Orleans which is right near my home. I taught physical chemistry and even freshman chemistry to try to get people interested in science for another ten years so I taught until I was 81.

Most Important Accomplishment
I guess my explanation of the application of basic physical chemistry to solve practical problems.

I don't like to be said that I invented wash wear because there any number of people worked on it

and the various processes by which you give cotton those properties, no one person discovered it or is responsible for it but I contributed to new processes of doing it.
I had a very good group working under me. Never a big group I never did want a big group

I had like 6 scientists: physicists, chemists working with me. We enjoyed working together, were friendly, worked hard but a lot of fun along the way as we worked.

I enjoy teaching that's why I kept on doing it and I think you get a lot of satisfaction seeing your students do well themselves later on in life. Getting good positions, doing well when they go to graduate school so that to me is a lot of satisfaction.
Or, even at work most of my people even though they didn't get advanced degrees they kept up with the sciences, took extra courses and advanced within their job description.
Words of Wisdom
I think that you do well if you are well prepared I think. Because even if you run across supervisor don't think you know anything, and you do know something and your work is first class. I think you'll get ahead in this world.
You can't like everything you do every job you have has something you like to do, something you don't like to do but I think you have to have more things you like than you don't like to do if you are going to be happy in your work.

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