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Chemistry At The Naval Academy

May 17, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 20

Rudy Baum's article about chemistry at the U.S. Naval Academy brought back memories of my time as a midshipman there in 1945–46 (C&EN, Feb. 15, page 49).

I had finished two years of college at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in chemistry and had enlisted in the Navy when I was selected as an alternate for the academy. The principal failed the physical, and because I passed it, I entered the academy on Aug. 11, 1945, in the class of 1949.

It was shortly after the second atomic bomb exploded over Nagasaki and World War II was ending. It was a time of continuing prejudice toward African Americans and other racial and religious minorities in our country. One classmate in my company was Wesley A. Brown, who would become the first African American to complete the program at the Naval Academy and become a naval officer.

I won't go into details of my plebe year at the academy, but I finished the first year second in my class in chemistry, which consisted of approximately 900 classmates. My chemistry background was clearly superior to that of many others, and I realized this would be my last chemistry course at the Naval Academy. I had enjoyed chemistry greatly, and ending my chemistry education was a bitter pill for me to accept. However, serving my country as a naval officer had great appeal.

I wondered whether I should stay in the academy and complete the program or return to WPI and finish a B.S. in chemistry. I might well have stayed had I had the option of taking additional chemistry courses, but I didn't. It was the most difficult decision of my entire life because I knew that each choice would be irrevocable. I took six months to make the decision, but after much agonizing, I left the academy in October 1946 and returned to WPI to obtain my B.S. in chemistry. We never know when we make decisions what an alternative career might have been.

Albert H. Soloway
Dean and professor emeritus
Ohio State University, Columbus



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