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son of the first American Nobelist in Chemistry (Theodore W. Richards, Harvard University), had earned his PhD at Harvard University (under his father’s tutelage), and was the brother-in- law of James B. Conant, later president of Harvard University. Richards kept his position at Loomis Laboratory until his death but had to resign from Princeton University due to depression and illness, traits than unfortunately ran strong in the Richards family (Conant, 2002).
Over the next 12 years, Richards went on to publish 19 addi- tional papers on various aspects at the interface between physical chemistry and physical acoustics, most dealing with gas-phase measurements. In an overview based on an address to the Acoustical Society of America (ASA; Richards, 1938, p. 305), Richards noted, “I have been told by every math- ematical physicist I know that the analysis of cavitation is a task beyond the ability of present day mathematics.” A rather forceful statement to be made in front of the ASA, given that Lord Rayleigh had already analyzed the problem of bubble collapse, albeit in the context of propeller-generated cavi- tation, in 1917 (Rayleigh, 1917). Rayleigh made accurate predictions of enormous pressures during cavitation but did not extrapolate them to the extreme temperatures created in the collapsing gas phase, which turns out to be the origin of most sonochemistry (Noltingk and Neppiras, 1950; Suslick et al., 2018). Indeed, in his very last scientific paper a year later (a massive review of “supersonic phenomena”), Richards stated that one of the possible results of cavitation “is the large pressure which Rayleigh has shown to accompany the collapse of bubbles. It might be argued that pressure surges from this cause are sufficiently great to cause the adiabatic temperature changes required. This explanation is improb- able for several reasons...” (Richards, 1939, p. 53). Richards favored an electrical discharge mechanism, a hypothesis that did not stand the test of time (Suslick et al., 2018).
The announcement of the death of Richards appeared on Feb- ruary 1, 1940, in the Daily Princetonian: “William T. Richards, former University scientist, was discovered dead yesterday with his wrists slashed in the bathtub of his New York City apartment, an apparent suicide. Police refused to disclose the contents of a note found beside the tub” (Anonymous, 1940).
The story does not quite end there, however, because a murder mystery, Brain Waves and Death, was published post- humously under the pseudonym “Willard Rich” a few weeks later. The book was a very thinly veiled roman à clef of the Loomis Laboratory, and Loomis felt much betrayed. Loomis
Figure 8. Albert Szent-Györgyi (1893–1986) was the first to report ultrasonic cleavage of polymers. Photo taken in 1917. Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Creative Commons license with attribution.
and Conant were apparently able to purchase and destroy most copies, and today copies of the book are scarce, with the least expensive being $1,000.00 (plus shipping!). There is a much fuller description of Richard’s book and a suppressed short story (“The Uranium Bomb,” an accurate description, disguised as a science fiction story, of the secret Fermi-Szilard plan that initiated the Manhattan Project) in Conant’s superb Tuxedo Park (2002).
Another Dionysian: Albert Szent-Györgyi
Only a few years after the pioneering work of Loomis with Wood and with Richards, a very brief note was published in 1933 in Nature by Albert Szent-Györgyi (pronounced “Saint Georgie”; Figure 8), describing the first depolymerization of
polymers (Szent-Györgyi, 1933). This work remains strik- ingly relevant even today with rather active current research on the mechanochemistry of polymers, most often initiated by ultrasonic irradiation of polymer solutions (Suslick, 2014). Szent-Györgyi went on to win the 1937 Nobel Prize for his discovery of vitamin C and work on biological oxidation. Amusingly, Szent-Györgyi ends his Nature article, “For lack of funds, our investigation has been broken off.”
Aside from this very early contribution to the chemical effects of ultrasound, I have brought up Szent-Györgyi for his philosophical insights into the origins of any new field of
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