History of Chemistry at Western


Normal School, 1899 to 1933

In 1899 New Whatcom State Normal School (later Washington State Normal School at Bellingham) opened with a total of 6 faculty members. Its sole mission was to train teachers. Francis W. Eply, who served in this capacity until 1916, taught all of the sciences.

The center section of Old Main was ready for occupancy on September 6, 1899 when the normal school opened its doors to 88 students. By the end of the week there were 160 total students. In these early days, all classes were held in Old Main. In 1902, the south annex was added to the original building but stumps and boardwalks remained in front of the building. There was very little landscaping apart from a pond (swamp) in front of the building. In 1907, the science annex was added to the north end of Old Main giving a building close in appearance to what is seen today, nearly 100 years later.

It is easy to imagine what the science labs in the south end of Old Main would have smelled like in the early days. Fume hoods probably were few and far between and one needed to open windows to disperse any nasty smells! The odor from the preparation of banana oil (isopentyl acetate) in the organic laboratory freely mixed with the smell of formaldehyde from the biology lab!

Original central section of Old Main in 1896. The south wing was added in 1902 and the science wing, on the north side, was added in 1907.

Professor Francis W. Eply (1899)
Science wing of Old Main under construction (1907)
Science lab in Old Main, about 1910
Science lab in Old Main, about 1910
Wilson Library (1928). Additions were added to the original structure in 1962 ad 1972.


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Western Washington College of Education, 1933 to 1959

In 1933, Western was granted permission to award the Bachelor of Arts in Education degree and in 1937 the school was renamed Western Washington College of Education to reflect this change in mission. Although it was now possible to obtain a bachelor's degree, the mission of the college was still focused on the preparation of high-quality teachers. The sciences remained in Old Main until Haggard Hall of Science was built in 1960. Fortunately, the open flames from the Bunsen burners hadn't burned down Old Main!


Professor Fred W. Knapman was the primary person involved in establishing the chemistry program at Western. He began his career at Western as a student in the 1930's. In 1933 he secured a position as an assistant in the science department where he washed glassware and prepared laboratory demonstrations at a wage of 25 cents per hour. He graduated from Bellingham Normal in 1934 and became a teacher in Lewis County, Washington. In 1938, Fred earned a masters degree in chemistry at the University of Washington. Later, he completed a doctorate in education at Columbia University. Fred returned to Western as a chemistry instructor in 1942. He had a brilliant career here where he served as an effective advocate for the sciences, a leader in building a new science building, and as an administrator. It can safely be stated that Fred Knapman is the founder of the modern era in the chemistry program here at Western. He was a strong force in the building of Haggard Hall of Science in 1960 and managed to persuade Linus Pauling to speak at the building's dedication. Most of the faculty that were recruited to Western in the 1960's remember being entertained at Fred and Frances Knapman's home on Chuckanut Drive. When Fred retired in 1974, he had served the college as a professor of chemistry, chairman of the science department, chairman of the chemistry department, and dean. Shortly after retiring, Fred and Frances started the Knapman Scholarship Fund.


In the 1950's the Department of Science consisted of the following instructor's of chemistry (years of service and their primary teaching areas are given in parentheses). In the future, we will attempt to include the names of others that helped build the chemistry program at Western during this period of time. Lowell Eddy and Edward Neuzil brought in the first external research grants into the Department.

Kermit B. Bengston (1950 - 1955, General Chemistry) 
Marion Besserman (1952 - 1983, Physical Chemistry) 
Lowell Eddy (1957 - 1986, Inorganic Chemistry) 
Fred W. Knapman (1942 - 1974, Organic Chemistry) 
Edward F. Neuzil (1959 - 1992, Physical Chemistry)

Professor Fred Knapman (1942)
General chemistry lab, Old Main 1949-50
Professor Kermit Bengston in Old Main 1950-51
Professor Marion Besserman (1952)
Professor Lowell Eddy (1957)
Professor Edward Neuzil (1959)


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Western Washington State College, 1959 to 1975

Prior to the opening of Haggard Hall of Science in 1960, all of the sciences were included in the Department of Science. In 1960, the Department of Biology was created and it occupied the third floor of the new building. The Department of Geology was located on the first floor along with Science Education. Chemistry and physics occupied the second floor and existed as a single department until they were divided into separate departments in 1962. Western was renamed Western Washington State College in 1961. It was during this time period that Western modified its mission to award degrees in majors other than in education. We had become a liberal arts college.


Student enrollment increased very rapidly during this period as the "Baby Boomers" started college. With student enrollment increases, the size of the faculty grew as well. Professor Andrew J. Frank became the first Chairman of the department in 1962 and during his tenure as chairman from 1962 to about 1969, most of the faculty members now present in the department were hired. Fred Knapman was chairman for a few years around 1970 after Andrew Frank left Western. Joseph R. Crook served as chairman from 1970 to 1975. The following is a list of faculty hired during the 1960's and early 1970's.

William A. Nilsson (1961 - 1964, Organic Chemistry) 
Andrew J. Frank (1962 - 1970, Analytical Chemistry) 
James H. Mathewson (1963 - 1964, Biochemistry) 
Gary M. Lampman (1964 - 2008, Organic Chemistry) 
Sea Bong Chang (1964 - 1972, Biochemistry) 
John C. Whitmer (1965 - 2004, Physical Chemistry and Science Education) 
Donald M. King (1966 - 2005, Analytical Chemistry) 
John A. Miller (1966 - 2001, Organic Chemistry and Science Education) 
H. William Wilson (1966 - 2002, Physical Chemistry) 
George S. Kriz (1967 - 2014, Organic Chemistry) 
Mark Wicholas (1967 - 2007 Inorganic Chemistry) 
Salvatore F. Russo (1968 - 2005, Biochemistry) 
John A, Weyh (1968 - 2005, Analytical Chemistry) 
George A. Gerhold (1969 - 2004, Physical Chemistry) 
John Searle (1969 - 1972, Organic Chemistry) 
Joseph R. Crook (1970 - 1995, Inorganic Chemistry) 
Patrick J. McIntyre (1970 - 1977, Science Education) 
Donald L. Pavia (1970 - 2008, Organic Chemistry)


Unfortunately, student enrollments fell rapidly during the early 1970's and the faculty at Western went through a very difficult period. A very painful time of reduction in force occurred that demoralized the faculty and staff. We lost chemistry faculty at this time. The faculty stabilized but we were not able to hire new faculty until 1984 when Gerry Prody joined us.


Professor Salvatore Russo and Crystal Driver, 1973

Professor Mark Wicholas, 1973
Haggard Hall of Science, 1960
Professor Sea Bong Chang, 1965
Professor Joseph Crook and Gayle Bruski, 1973
Professor Donald King (left) with Professor Joseph Crook (center), 1971

Professor George Kriz, 1973 
Professor Gary Lampman and Richard Burnell, 1973

Professor John Miller, 1973

Professor John Weyh and Tod Shioyama, 1973
Professor John Whitmer (right)
Professor H. William Wilson, Joyce Rideout and Dana Perry, 1973

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Western Washington University, 1975 to 2000


The Department of Chemistry was able to occupy the entire second floor of Haggard Hall following the departure of the Physics Department to Bond Hall. The Chemistry Department, however, remained in Haggard Hall until 1993. Because of safety and space issues, George Gerhold, Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, and others pressed the State Legislature to obtain new buildings for chemistry, biology and science education. Don Pavia worked closely with the architects in designing the four-story building that we see today. Chemistry moved into its third home in 1993, with Biology and Science Education following closely into their new buildings. These modern facilities, along with a strong faculty, have helped position Western as one of the premier undergraduate universities in the United States.


Donald King became chairman following Joseph Crook. Mark Wicholas served as chairman of the department from 1982-2007. Followed by Steve Gammon from 2007-2012, James Vyvyan from 2012-2016, and Spencer Anthony-Cahill became chair in 2016. 


The following persons joined the faculty during this time period.

Gerry A. Prody (1984 - present, Biochemistry) 
Mark E. Bussell (1990 - present, Physical Chemistry) 
Joseph G. Morse (1993 - 2006, Inorganic Chemistry and Science Education) 
David L. Patrick (1996 - present, Analytical Chemistry) 
Spencer J. Anthony-Cahill (1997 - present, Biochemistry) 
James R. Vyvyan (1997 - present, Organic Chemistry)

 In the 100 year period, chemistry instruction had moved from one person, Francis W. Eply, teaching all of the science courses to a 17 person Department of Chemistry. The department has maintained a strong teaching commitment while at the same time offering students an outstanding research environment. We anticipate continuing in this tradition with the help of a large grant awarded to us in 2000 from the Research Corporation and the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. We anticipate becoming one of the best undergraduate research programs in chemistry in the United States.


Moving from Haggard Hall to the new Chemistry Building, Summer 1993 
Left to Right : Samantha Glazier, Paul Aegerter, Rafael Cruz, Julie Krell, Jason Valley and Greg Veith.

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Western Washington University, 2001 to present


In 2000, the Chemistry Department was selected by Research Corporation and the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust, two independent foundations supporting educational excellence, as recipient of a $746,000 Department Development Grant. This grant along with approximately $1.6 million in pledged funds from Western Washington University will be used to bring the department to its goal of having one of the strongest undergraduate programs in the nation.  The following persons joined the faculty during this time period:


Steven R. Emory (2001 - present, Analytical Chemistry) 
Lisa N. Gentile (2001 - 2006, Biochemistry) 
Christopher J. A. Daley (2002 - 2007, Inorganic Chemistry) 
Steven D. Gammon (2002 - 2012, Chemical Education) 
Emily Borda (2005 - present, Chemical Education) 
Elizabeth A. Raymond (2006 - present, Physical Chemistry) 
Loren D. Williams (2006 - 2008, Biochemistry) 
Timothy B. Clark (2007 - 2011, Organic Chemistry) 
P. Clint Spiegel (2007 - present, Biochemistry) 
John Gilbertson (2008 - present, Inorganic) 
Janelle Leger (2008 - present, Physical & Materials Chemistry) 
Gregory O'Neil (2008 - present, Organic) 
Serge Smirnov (2008 - present, Biochemistry) 
Amanda Murphy (2009 - present, Organic & Materials Chemistry) 
David Rider (2010 - present, Materials Chemistry) 
John Antos (2012 - present, Organic Chemistry)


Faculty Photo, Commencement 2005.  (Left to right) Prody, Russo, Gentile, Emory, Lampman, Daley, Vyvyan, Patrick, Kriz, Anthony-Cahill.
Professor Vyvyan (left) and Professor Patrick (right) are promoted to full professors, Spring 2005.
Professor King at Chemistry Awards Ceremony, 2005.
Biochemistry faculty members, Commencement 2005.  
(Left to right) Anthony-Cahill, Russo, Gentile, and Prody.

Commencement 2005. 
(Left to right) Daley, Vyvyan, and Emory.
Ribbon Cutting Ceremony of Advance Materials Science Engineering Center (AMSEC), Spring 2006. 
(Left to right) Trustee, Dean Ghali, Prof. David Patrick, Trustee, Provost Bodman, and President Morse.


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Information Compiled by Prof. Gary Lampman (1963 - 2008, Organic Chemistry)


"The First Fifty Years; Western Washington College Bulletin," 1949.

Arthur Hicks "Western at 75", Western Washington State College Foundation, 1974.

George Mariz in Roland L. De Lorme, editor, with Steven W. Inge "Perspectives on Excellence: a Century of Teaching and Learning at Western Washington University," p. 22 - 24, 2000.

Wilson Library, Special Collections Department, Tamara Belts, Director.

Department of Chemistry, Western Washington University Photo Collection.

1960 Klipsun Yearbook, Western Washington College of Education.


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