Turned On!
by S.P. Perone

"The clock was ticking. I had, at most, two more years to prove myself. The research would have to bear fruit."

This autobiography by an analytical chemistry PhD, who entered Purdue University as an assistant professor in 1962, focuses on his battle to learn the ropes in gaining tenure and then full professorship. On the route to this goal, he describes the climate of early and late sixties. Efforts at promoting science in America were in full swing since the launch of the Russian Sputnik, and American students took up the challenge with idealistic fervor. The author contrasts this early idealism with the later sixties, when students more often stayed enrolled in order to dodge the draft. He also describes his initial forays into technical research programs like voltammetry, flash photolysis, and other manifestations of electroanalytics–all categories of analytical chemistry where measurement is king. In the summer of 1967, however, a visit to Livermore Labs in California opens his eyes to the possibilities of digital computers in chemistry.

Soon he finds himself running a three week crash course in computer programming for lab equipment back at Purdue and pens two textbooks on the subject that have long-lasting influence. These technical discussions are artfully related through well-crafted dialogue that he shares with his fellow professors and graduate students. Many mishaps and pranks in the department help humanize the story, with the era’s music and culture providing a colorful background. More in love with being “turned on” by what he is doing rather than achieving stability and wealth, the author experiences doubts once he achieves full professorship in 1971. Eventually leaving Purdue for Livermore labs, he describes what being an analytical chemist in the private sector is like. Though a short description of his life after Purdue follows, most of the book covers the sixties, when idealism and disillusion were both extremely evident.

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