Science and Disability: Interviews in the General Collection

One impetus for the development of the Science and Disability Oral History Project was the realization that our existing collection of oral history interviews already contained a number of interviews with scientists and engineers who discussed the impact of disabilities on work in STEM fields. Below is a sampling of some of the interviews in our existing collection—conducted over many years for various projects—that feature discussions of disability in STEM education and careers.

“Disability” is a fraught and often contested category. What makes a person “disabled”? Is it a physical, cognitive, or emotional impairment that is manifested in that person’s body, or is it the presence of barriers and the absence of accommodations in society and the environment in which that person must live and work? Some categories of disability are contested, such as pregnancy, which may be viewed as disabling by some but not by others. Deciding what is and is not a disability is a historically and politically meaningful act. Many of the interviews included on the list below are with individuals who might not self-identify as disabled, but each interview includes some discussion that sheds light on what disability, or the perception of disability, can mean and how it can affect a person’s life, education, and career in STEM.

Allison A. Aldridge
After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois and a PhD in chemistry from Loyola University, Allison Aldridge worked for a number of chemical companies, including Abbott Laboratories, Mikart, Revogenex, and Speed Laboratory. During her interview Aldridge discusses coping with malformed shoulder joints and visual and hearing problems throughout her educational and professional career.

Robert W. Allington
Robert Allington, entrepreneur and founder of the Instrumentation Specialties Company (Isco), was diagnosed with polio during an internship at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. As a result of paralysis from polio he used a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. His oral history features extensive discussion of his diagnosis and treatment and the impact of the disease on his relationships with family and colleagues, as well as on his career in engineering.

Hubert N. Alyea
Hubert Alyea was an internationally known popularizer of chemistry. His public demonstrations and academic lectures won him numerous awards and imparted the beauty of chemistry to his students and interested laypeople alike. Alyea contracted polio in 1923, during his senior year at Princeton University. His interview covers his diagnosis and treatment and mentions the effects of post-polio syndrome in his later years.

Julius Blank
Julius Blank joined Shockley Semiconductor in California in 1956, where he met Gordon Moore. He later joined Moore and six other Shockley colleagues to form Fairchild Semiconductor. Blank was wounded in December 1944 during a World War II battle in the Hürtgen Forest in Germany. He does not discuss the nature or the impact of his injury beyond the fact that he received a 10% disability rating on his return to the United States, which qualified him for a stipend while he completed his undergraduate education.

Frances M. Brodsky
Frances Brodsky was interviewed as part of the Pew Biomedical Scholars Oral History Project. Brodsky mentions contracting mononucleosis from working with cell lines in Walter Bodmer’s laboratory at Oxford University. This leads to a brief discussion about the hazards of laboratory work and changing attitudes toward lab safety. Later in the interview Brodsky also talks about a subordinate in her lab who experienced depression.

Edwin R. Chapman
Edwin Chapman was interviewed as part of the Pew Biomedical Scholars Oral History Project. During his interview he briefly describes the effect a postdoc’s pregnancy had on her work in his lab.

Stuart W. Churchill
Stuart Churchill earned a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan, where he spent much of his academic career before moving to the University of Pennsylvania. While reflecting on the prevalence of foreign graduate students in chemical engineering, he mentions that the difficulty American students had getting draft deferments during the Vietnam War accounted for the fact that the only two non-foreign students he had in that period were physically disabled.

Paul M. Doty
Paul Doty’s oral history describes his life and work in organic chemistry, ranging from an early interest in chemistry, to graduate work with polymers, to his eventual work on the denaturation of proteins. Doty briefly describes challenges he faced dealing with dyslexia.

Stephen J. Elledge
Stephen Elledge was interviewed as part of the Pew Biomedical Scholars Oral History Project. During his interview he discusses a colleague’s dyslexia, which Elledge credits for giving his colleague a different way of looking at problems.

Andrew B. Ellington
Andrew Ellington was interviewed as part of the Pew Biomedical Scholars Oral History Project. He describes two brief bouts with depression during graduate and postdoctoral work.

Mary K. Gall
After earning a BS in chemistry from Vassar College, Mary Gall spent her career doing lab work for a number of chemical companies. In her interview she recounts her experience reading patent applications and technical articles to a blind chemist who worked with her at Rohm and Haas.

William C. Goggin
William Goggin joined The Dow Chemical Company in 1936. His work in Dow’s Plastics Division coincided with the rise of plastics in the world market, and he rose steadily through the company, retiring as board chair of Dow Corning Corporation in 1976. Goggin contracted polio in 1950 and recounts his experience with hospitalization and treatment at a polio clinic in Pontiac, Michigan, as well as the supportive response of Dow Chemical during his illness.

Carol W. Greider
Our collection includes oral-history interviews with Carol Greider for the Pew Biomedical Scholars Oral History Project and for a project on telomere research. In her Pew interview Greider discusses her dyslexia and its impact on her education and work.

Theodore S. Jardetzky
Theodore Jardetzky was interviewed for the Pew Biomedical Scholars Oral History Project. In this interview he discusses his mother, who was a research scientist at Harvard University and who later developed schizophrenia.

Gordon M. Kline
Gordon Kline had a 40-year career at the National Bureau of Standards, where his work focused on organic resins and other polymers. In his interview he briefly mentions the partial paralysis of Nobel laureate Giulio Natta, whom he knew well.

Stephanie Kwolek
Stephanie Kwolek spent her career as a polymer chemist at DuPont, where she invented Kevlar. In this interview she mentions leg surgery she underwent while in high school to address a bone deformity.

W. Ian Lipkin
Ian Lipkin was interviewed as part of the Pew Biomedical Scholars Oral History Project. He discusses his experience during medical school working closely with a resident in psychiatry who was blind.

James R. Lupski
As a child James Lupski was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), which required several surgeries that kept him at home for much of high school. He attributes his desire to become a doctor to this experience. After receiving an MD-PhD from New York University, he obtained a faculty appointment at Baylor University, where he began his research into the genetics of CMT. Lupski was interviewed as part of the Pew Biomedical Scholars Oral History Project.

Raymond March
Raymond March was interviewed as part of a project on mass spectroscopy. During his interview March describes a polio-like paralysis he experienced as a teenager. It was temporary, but it did cause him to miss a significant amount of school.

Marvin Margoshes
During this oral-history interview Marvin Margoshes discusses the shrapnel wound he received while fighting in the Pacific during World War II, which later qualified him for a 10% disability rating. He also recounts the near-blindness of one of his graduate-school professors, the pioneering organic chemist Henry Gilman.

James McCloskey
James McCloskey is an analytical chemist who has served as president of the American Society of Mass Spectroscopy. As a child, McCloskey contracted polio, which affected his facial muscles and nerves.

Arthur I. Mendolia
After earning his BS in chemical engineering at Case Western Reserve University, Arthur Mendolia began to work at DuPont as a research engineer. DuPont recommended Mendolia for a position in the U.S. Department of Defense. Mendolia later became involved in corporate ventures, establishing his own chemical company, CasChem. In his interview Mendolia mentions a brief incident of temporary blindness following a laboratory accident.

Robert D. Nicholls
Robert Nicholls was interviewed for the Pew Biomedical Scholars Oral History Project. He describes the impact of his older sister’s lengthy childhood hospitalization for an undiagnosed cognitive-psychological ailment on his own decision to pursue a career in medicine.

Jennie R. Patrick
When studying chemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, Jennie Patrick was the only African American woman in her department. She excelled and attended MIT for her ScD. During her career she worked for General Electric, Rohm and Haas, Southern Company Services, and Raytheon. During her interview Patrick describes herself as disabled owing to repeated exposure to toxic chemicals during her career.

Ann M. Pullen
Ann Pullen was interviewed as part of the Pew Biomedical Scholars Oral History Project. Pullen discusses choosing not to take a graduate student position in the lab of a professor whose deafness made communication with him difficult.

Robert Robson
Robert Robson discusses his upbringing in South Dakota, his involvement with the army, his interest in electronics, and his involvement with the electronics and semiconductor industries. Robson describes his employment at Farnsworth Electronics, Fairchild Semiconductor, Amelco, Teledyne, Intersil, and Microma. His interview includes a very brief mention of his color blindness.

John R. Schaefgen
John Schaefgen earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a PhD in physical organic chemistry from Ohio State. He spent most of his career at E. I. du Pont de Nemours. In this interview Schaefgen recalls his childhood bout with tuberculosis of the spine, for which he was hospitalized from age three to nine and that left him with curvature of the spine.

Warren G. Schlinger
Warren Schlinger earned a doctorate in mechanical and chemical engineering from the California Institute of Technology and spent the entirety of his career at the Texaco research lab in Montebello, California. In his oral-history interview Schlinger alludes both to dyslexia and to partial deafness, which kept him out of the armed services during World War II.

Erin M. Schuman
Erin Schuman was interviewed for the Pew Biomedical Scholars Oral History Project. She talks about the frustration she experienced when she was required to treat the recovery period after her cesarean section as a short-term disability, even though she continued to work throughout that time.

Emil L. Smith
Emil Smith earned an undergraduate degree in biology and a PhD in zoology from Columbia University. He received a Guggenheim fellowship to Cambridge University until the outbreak of World War II, then spent much of his career at the University of Utah and later the University of California, Los Angeles. He discusses becoming inspired to work on enzymes by a visiting lecture by John Northrop while at Columbia; Smith, however, ruled out a position in Northrop’s laboratory owing to Northrop’s deafness.

Herbert Tabor
Herbert Tabor graduated with an AB in biochemical science from Harvard University. He earned his MD, then entered the Public Health Service of the National Institutes of Health, studying electrolyte changes in burn and shock victims. He discusses the paralysis caused by Guillain-Barré syndrome that led to the retirement of William Stein as editor of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.