19: Student Independence
As a graduate student and postdoc research advisor, I generally knew exactly, or approximately, what each student was doing. The better students generally received the least attention. But there were some extreme outliers.
One day I walked into the lab to see Penny Gilmer watching blood drip out of an ordinary lab funnel with ordinary filter paper, counting the drops one by one. Curious, I asked what was going on? Turns out that the drip rate depends on the presence of prostaglandin. Remarkably, the response is biphasic, at a concentration of the order of one molecule per red cell. The effect of PGE1 is the opposite of the effect of PGE2 (175). Wray Heustis used a similar effect to discover the presence of a muscarinic acetylcholine receptor in the red blood cell (178)!
Proceeding quite independently of me, Gill Humphries discovered and identified a common oxidation product of cholesterol that is immunosuppressive.
And needless to say there was a vast amount of nitroxide chemistry carried out by Betty Gaffney, Wayne Hubbell, Hayes Griffith, Larry Berliner and others the details of which I knew very little.
A “side project” by Hayes Griffith was to study the paramagnetic resonance spectra of nitroxide radicals immobilized in a crystalline host (102). This permitted the determination of the g-factor and hyperfine tensors for these radicals, results used in numerous theoretical analyses of resonance line shapes.
On the purely mathematical side, there were some who were far ahead, notably David Torney (now a full-fledged mathematician) and Rudi de Koker (now a quantitative financial type in London).
It is perfectly natural for academic professors to relinquish lab space to provide for the younger generations. It is also perfectly reasonable for federal funding agencies to cease funding for the same reason. My experience in the latter regard has been unpleasant; the agencies cook up absurd “scientific” reasons why your last proposal was flawed and should not be funded.
Over the years I have been treated well by reviewers of my scientific papers, and by reviewers of my research proposals. But there are exceptions. While at Shell, Chuck Holm and I measured the natural abundance C-13 nuclear relaxation rate in oxygen-free carbon disulfide liquid. The relaxation time was quite short, and at the time there was no known relaxation mechanism for this process. I worked out the theory of nuclear relaxation by anisotropic chemical shielding and submitted the paper to Phys. Rev. Letters. It was turned down because we did not (and could not) vary the field strength. The paper was published in J. Chem. Phys. (27). Years later I met distinguished Professor X at a Gordon Conference, and he told me he turned the paper down because “he had a friend working on a related problem.” Similarly, a paper was turned down by Phys. Rev. Letters “because the molecules had too many atoms,” Professor X again no doubt. (44) I once had a meeting at Harvard with Purcell and Professor X. Purcell was impressed with my theory of chemical reaction rates by NMR, but Professor X said it was wrong. In spite of all of this I have a lot of respect for Professor X.