Gilman Hall was built in 1916-1917 to accommodate an expanded College of
chemistry under the leadership of Gilbert Newton Lewis. This building provided
research and teaching facilities for faculty and students specializing in
physical, inorganic, and nuclear chemistry. Work here by G. N. Lewis and
Kenneth S. Pitzer helped advance the fields of chemical thermodynamics and
molecular structure. Research performed in Gilman Hall has resulted in two
Nobel Prizes: to William F. Giauque in 1949 for his studies on the behavior
of substances at extremely low temperatures, and to Glenn T. Seaborg in
1951 for discoveries in the chemistry of the transuranium elements. Four
other individuals who did research here subsequently received Nobel Prizes.
Building That Lewis Built
new chemistry building at the University of California, Gilman Hall,
was dedicated in March 1918 as part of the university's "Semicentenary
Week." In December 1911, Gilbert Newton Lewis, a well-established
professor at MIT, had visited Berkeley and had stated his conditions
for coming to head the College of Chemistry. These conditions called
for an enlarged budget and increases in faculty and staff for the
Department of Chemistry, then the only department in the College of
Chemistry, and for an annex to be added to the old red-brick chemistry
building. Lewis came to Berkeley in 1912. He supervised the enlargement
of the department, and a modest annex was built for him. He also started
planning for the "ultimate chemistry laboratory." In 1917,
Lewis's building, a modern steel and concrete structure, was completed
and named Gilman Hall. It was devoted exclusively to research and
instruction in physical and technical chemistry.
Gilman Hall was named for Daniel Coit Gilman, president of the university
from 1872 to 1875. It was designed by John Galen Howard as a two-story
building with a full basement largely aboveground.
Hall also had a small subbasement, which was occupied by a liquid
air plant. The first such plant at Berkeley, built in about 1904 or
1905, was inadequate to support Lewis's strong interest in thermodynamics,
especially the Third Law; the subbasement was added later to the building
plans, specifically for this purpose.
There was also an extra floor, called the "attic," where
much of the important research has been done. Room 307 in the attic
was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966; it is where plutonium
was identified as a new element in 1941.
For any chemistry postdoctoral or graduate student from the Lewis
era, the most storied room was number 102, where seminars were held.
Lewis, filling the room with cigar smoke as was his custom, contributed
to the research of all those present. He was an intellectual leader
in what has become the American style of mentoring. He was strong,
but he encouraged contributions from all those present as long as
they were not foolish. It was this style that helped mold many of
the leading physical chemists of his time.
In the period after 1918, significant research developments in physical
chemistry shifted from Germany to the United States with a great deal
of this advancement taking place under the leadership of Lewis in
Gilman Hall. Research performed in this building has resulted in two
Nobel Prizes, and four other researchers from the Lewis years were
subsequently Nobel laureates.
Lewis's tenure in Gilman Hall was a period of great accomplishment
that still influences the teaching and practice of chemistry.
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