Technology and the Career
of Galen W. Ewing

by Martin Ewing, Yale University

Eastern Analytical Symposium 1999
New Directions in Chemistry Education: A Tribute to Galen Wood Ewing,
Invited Talk, Nov. 16, 1999.

[Complete PowerPoint presentation, with graphics. The presentation will be shown in a separate browser window, so the reader can click along with the text below.]

[Slide 1 – title]

Thank you for inviting me to speak today about my father, Galen W. Ewing. This is a challenge for me in two ways. To try to summarize a father’s life before a public group is difficult, because you have lived much of a lifetime with this person, and there are too many dimensions to stuff into a few minutes. I know many of you were his colleagues and students. I expect you might have the same hesitation in my place.

The second challenge is that by training I am a physicist and astronomer, and here I am in front of an audience of chemists! My own chemical career was over before it began – the victim of irreproducible wet-lab experiments and an instructor who delighted in pop quizzes on Saturday mornings at 8 o’clock. (I know that dates me.)

You remember what they say about talking dogs, it’s not that they speak well, but that they speak at all. That’s me.

Seriously, I would like to thank you on behalf of my family for remembering him on this occasion. My mother, Alice Ewing, gave me a message for you:

I am sorry that I am unable to attend this meeting and greet you in person but I just wanted to tell you that I deeply appreciate your honoring Galen at this symposium. He would be very pleased, proud and thankful.
How well I remember his interest and involvement in EAS - He enjoyed so much the meetings and the work they involved. Above all, he enjoyed seeing his old friends and meeting new ones.
My sons and I are touched that you would dedicate this session to Galen.
My heartfelt thanks and best wishes for a good meeting.
Alice Ewing

I have to tell you that my mother sent this note to me in e-mail, and it is one of her first ever emails. Her address is if friends would like to contact her. She is well and living near us in Branford, CT.

You may have decided by now that this is not going to be a highly structured talk today. I have, however, gone through some of our records to prepare a few slides that relate to Galen Ewing’s long and many-faceted career.

We begin at the beginning. [Slide 2 – Beginnings]

Galen was born in 1914 to Florence Wood and William Clinton Ewing in Boston, MA. Both of his parents had graduated from "Boston Tech," class of 1897. (You may know Boston Tech by its newer name, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.) With only one child, Galen’s family moved many times as his father had an active career as an organizer of civic development groups – chambers of commerce – in many cities.

You will note a Quaker tinge in his early schooling. However, he left Swarthmore (where I studied 30 years later) for William & Mary, where he graduated in 1936. His parents had moved to Williamsburg, where his father was involved in the colonial restoration project and later owned and operated a small bookstore.

In a mere 3 years, Galen had a Ph. D. from the University of Chicago in physical chemistry. But we are getting ahead of the story.

There were some early indications of a technical and publishing career.

[Slide 3 – 1916, Technical Training]

Here is Galen learning the fine points of automotive technique with his father and grandfather. His mother, Florence, was the likely photographer. We have an enormous trove of her pictures of Galen’s youth.

Now in the realm of words, the first publication I have found is this one.

[Slide 4 – First Publication]

This is a rather lengthy letter in a local Haverford Pennsylvania Township paper which lays out the long history of the land near the Ewing’s house in Penfield from the earliest European settlers. Having researched their property deed from antiquity, he closes with gratitude for being the recipient of "all the hawking, fishing, and mining rights on our fifty-foot lot."

Galen also had a considerable interest in photography, which he must have acquired from his mother. He took pictures at Swarthmore, for example.

[Slide 5 – Photography]

He also had many pictures of William & Mary and of Williamsburg, but they would be the subject of another talk.

After graduation from Chicago, my father took his first teaching job at Blackburn College in Carlinville, IL. Here are more photos, now with a technical content.

[Slide 6 – More Photography]

Note the early computational device.

The most important result of the Blackburn days is indicated in the next slide.

[Slide 7 – Alice & Galen]

Alice Sipple was a Blackburn student who was destined to become Galen’s faithful wife of more than 50 years and mother of myself, William and Thomas.

Professionally, Galen’s scientific publications began at William & Mary. His first, in the next slide,

[Slide 8 – Science]

discussed (what I would now call) metastable atomic states of Nitrogen. I observe behind the words a considerable fascination with the beauty of electric gas discharges under various physical conditions. Perhaps that was why he was keenly supportive when I experimented with some of the same physical systems as a high school student.

Another thread that Galen pursued throughout his career was the history of science. His second paper (next slide)

[Slide 9 – History]

concerned how science was taught in the early years of the College of William & Mary. He did considerable detective work at the College, discovering that there were a number of early scientific instruments that dated back to the days when Thomas Jefferson was a student there.

[Slide 10 – Instruments]

Note the "Guinea and Feather Tube" which would be pumped down to show that a coin and a feather would fall at the same rate under gravity in a vacuum. The various conductors and generators were used to demonstrate what we now know as static electricity.

Next, came the Ph D thesis

[Slide 11 – Ph.D. Degree]

This slim volume describes approaches to a problem that is still a thorny one – reliably measuring very small differences in temperature for calorimetry.

Galen’s academic career

[Slide 12 – Academic Positions]

began at Blackburn, but was interrupted during the War years with a stint at Winthrop Laboratories (later Stirling Winthrop) at Rennselaer NY, where he developed analytical and instrumental talents which were generally related to pharmaceutical production. Perhaps now it would be called "Biotech" – making the first antibiotics.

At the end of the War, Galen faced a choice between staying in industry or moving back to academia. He chose the latter, despite the notoriously low professor’s pay in those days. I think the contact with students and the ability to pursue many interests must have decided the issue for him.

From Union, he moved on to New Mexico Highlands University and then Seton Hall, where many of you probably knew him. In retirement, he kept up teaching connections at Highlands and took a year at Carleton College. Of course, his publishing and professional service career (which we are getting to) continued very actively until very near his death in 1998.

Meanwhile, my father had friendships in the industrial world, and occasionally there were some efforts to commercialize interesting products.

[Slide 13 – Shameless Commerce!]

Here are two examples. In the mid ‘50s, Galen worked with the Millivac Instrument Corp. in Schenectady. They made a line of sensitive voltmeters at that time. Galen’s design was for a multi-function device "Poly-functionist" that would assist in electrochemistry, acting as a precise potentiometer, a chart-recorder interface, etc. They felt it would be a substantial labor-saver in real-world laboratories, but alas the market never developed. Only a dozen or so were produced.

A second effort in the mid-60’s was to develop a modular set of electronics for undergraduate teaching labs with A.R.F. Products, Inc., of Boulder CO. The photo shows an absorptiometer with light source, power supply, etc. The student would have to patch together the units and gain some understanding of the significant functional blocks of analytical instruments. When possible, the cases were made of transparent plastic so that inquisitive minds might consider the intricacies within.

I suspect those modules are needed more now than ever. I see students in our labs using complex instruments without ever a clue of what electronics makes them work. Or of the beauty with which they are made, which I am convinced was part of my father’s concern.

No mention of Galen Ewing’s career could overlook his many publications of texts, monographs, and journal columns.

[Slide 14 – Book Titles]

I will not go into these in any detail – many of you are more familiar with them than I. The centerpiece, of course, was the 5-edition series of Instrumental Methods of Chemical Analysis. As a sometime author myself, this list floors me with its length and diversity. I note that Galen’s last product, the Handbook of Analytical Instrumentation, second edition, is now prominently on display on the show floor at this conference at Marcel Dekker’s booth. Please take a few home for friends and relatives!

As this society knows well, Galen Ewing gave enormously in professional service.

[Slide 15 – Professional Service]

These are just some highlights; some of you would be able to fill out the list at much greater length.

Along with his many offices came several awards. I know he was especially touched when he was given the Award for Excellence in Teaching by the ACS Analytical Division in 1994.

Now, I will conclude with the technology I am personally a little more familiar with. As my father described in an article, he entered the field of chemistry when the vacuum tube was little more than a curiosity in a chemical lab. Over the years, he mastered that technology in the use and design of analytical instruments, recording devices, and even analog computers. Then, the transistor entered the picture and, eventually, the integrated circuit.

When Galen went into computers, it was not as laboratory systems, but for office productivity – particularly for writing and correspondence.

[Slide 16 – Computing]

He was a proud owner of one the first "portable" PCs, an Osborne 1. This computer sported a 4 MHz 8-bit Z80 processor and 64 kB of RAM and 160 K floppy disks. Despite its woeful limitations by today’s standards, the Osborne produced a number of large publishing projects using WordStar or equivalent software. It is interesting to note that our 600 MHz 32-bit Pentium III computers with 64 MB of RAM and 18 GB of disk only produce somewhat better documents than the Osborne. The keyboard rate remains exactly the same.

In the mid-80’s, it was clear that the Osborne had limited growth potential. (The company had disappeared.) The new Apple Macintosh was just the ticket with its WYSIWIG editor, nice font control, etc. Galen stayed loyally with Macintosh thereafter, upgrading to hard disks for storage and laser printers. Despite his publishers’ willingness to defray costs, Galen was generally content to be one or two generations behind the leading-edge technology and to be quite frugal, selecting second-hand equipment where possible.

My father was an active email partner with many of us as long as his eyesight permitted. I am sad to say that because of the lack of a good Internet service provider in northern New Mexico, he never had the ability to work with the World Wide Web. I am sure he would have embraced this new technology (not to mention PowerPoint) with the enthusiasm and sensitivity that were so typical throughout his long career.

[Slide 17 – GWE]

Thank you for the chance to reminisce about my father’s career, and thank you again for holding this session in his honor.

Copyright © 1999 Martin S. Ewing