In this interview Harry Deckman, recently retired as Senior Scientific Advisor at ExxonMobil Corporate Strategic Research, explains the many research and consulting facets of this work, and the collaborations he has participated in over his career which has tracked with technical and geopolitical developments. Deckman emphasizes ExxonMobil’s commitment to research in non-petroleum energy sources in parallel with finding new oil and gas reserves. He discusses: his childhood outside of Cleveland; early interests in science and the excellent public school offerings he received; undergraduate education at Case Western where he focused on solid state physics; his decision to go to Iowa State for his PhD, where Constantine Stassis supervised his thesis research on magnetic neutron scattering; his initial appointment in Exxon’s Corporate Research Lab to work on laser fusion, the impetus of this research in light of the energy crisis of the 1970s, and the many experiments and collaborations in the Lab that mixed basic and applied science, including the demonstration that laser plasma could be a source for X-ray lithography; the rise of soft matter physics as a discrete subfield, and the impact of the information revolution in the 1980s on his research agenda and his focused interest in absorbed molecules and studying isotherms and transport; his work with novel reactors and coupled waves in geoscience, and why his work in carbon dioxide separations marked a major turning point in his career both as a fascinating area of research and because of the imperative at Exxon to address carbon emissions; his work on hydrocarbons and their value as an affordable energy source; his interests, in retirement, to continue searching for solutions for greenhouse gas mitigation strategies.
Brief overview of the history of numerical general circulation models from about 1950-1970, centering on Smagorinsky's group, including Syukuro Manabe, at the U. S. Weather Bureau, The Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and the General Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton. Notes the interactions with weather predictions and climate change concerns, especially carbon dioxide warnings (greenhouse effect).
Chairman of the President's Science Advisory Committee. Science-government relationship; funding of basic research influenced by politics; development of basic research since World War II in physics, astronomy, medicine, geology, environment (Greenhouse Effect), agricultural; difference between funding procedures of Federal government and National Science Foundation. Extensive discussion of space exploration program. DuBridge's role and goals during his second term as PSAC chairman (first term was under President Eisenhower, 1952-1957); discussion of a science cabinet post (as opposed to a science advisor). Functions of PSAC; danger of development of a military-industrial complex. Role of Office of Naval Research in basic research after World War II. Comments on "vested interests;" military and technological enterprises in industry; growing dependence of universities on government money. Social implications of scientific and technological advances.