This post is contributed by SCARC student archivist Hannah Lawson, a chemistry major with a passion for art, conservation, and preserving history.
The 20th Century introduced a relatively new brand of scientist – the celebrity scientist. Milton Harris, born in 1906, graduated from OSU (then OAC) and later Yale. He primarily worked with textiles, creating multiple methods by which to prevent wool from shrinking and prevent moth damage. He worked closely with the military in WWII and with the razor blade company Gillette. Milton Harris’s ability to apply his discoveries to the commercial world launched him into relative fame and wealth. Interestingly, even after his days of laboratory research, he never lost sight of the role of science and scientists on society and technology. I am fascinated by his insights into the direction of chemistry – many of which are still relevant in our world.
As I’ve been researching Milton Harris and his work, I have noticed how thoroughly his personality bleeds into his science. His passion for technology, business, and education are prominent features in his speeches. After reading through Milton’s notes and speeches and jokes (which were often scribbled onto hotel notepads, presumably while he was away at industry conferences), I feel as though I know Milton Harris. I keep wanting to ask him questions – both about chemistry and industry – as well as his life and the impact he’s had. The questions below are those I wish to discuss with the late Milton Harris.
-Why textiles? What about the chemistry of textiles interests you most?
-How do you view collaboration in the laboratory? How have the works of earlier scientists and your colleagues influenced you?
-Through reading through your speeches and the articles that have been written about you, you seem to have a very distinct coupling of industry and science. Was this relationship between business and chemistry always apparent to you? How did this relationship influence the way you approached research?
-I have also noticed that you have supported educational institutions throughout your life. What would you say to those who do not value education as you do? What can we do, as scientists, to keep education well-funded and well established?
-Burnout is an increasing consequence of unpaid laboratory labor for STEM undergraduate students. What advice do you have to young, aspiring scientists to keep motivated and stay passionate? What kinds of opportunities should they be looking for?
-What role do scientists have in politics and law-making? How can we make our voices and concerns heard in a culture where science isn’t always seen as trustworthy?
-As technology advances, so does our opportunity to chemically analyze our world to a depth we never thought possible. Which chemical advancement or instrument do you wish had been around at the time, say, as your Yale dissertation?
-Ethics are becoming an important topic when sourcing textile materials. What role do you think chemists play in the moral acquisition of textiles and fiber for both research and industry?
While I realize that Milton Harris cannot answer any of my questions himself, I have found that many of my questions he answers indirectly through his work as an advocate for science. Milton Harris’s views on research and development within industry and education were very progressive for his time, and would even be considered progressive now. His constant positivity and hope in our future as a society is nothing sort of uplifting and inspiring. I am thankful that I have gotten to know Milton Harris through this project, and I hope that I can do him justice by displaying his work and his ideas through SCARC.
Want to learn more about Milton Harris and his manuscript collection held at SCARC? Check out his finding aid!