Notebook in hand, I leaned close to hear the soft-spoken words of a humble 84-year-old scientist. Winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry in the twilight of his life hadn’t gone to Charles Pedersen’s head.
“What I did, I did well,” he told me after UD President Brother Raymond Fitz, S.M., presented him with an honorary master’s degree in a living room full of family and friends in Salem, N.J., in 1989. “I worked in a peculiar way and things worked out. If you have an abnormal way of doing things, you do have an advantage because you’re not imitating anybody else. If you have innovation, then you’re relatively safe.
“But it doesn’t mean you necessarily have anything good,” he quipped.
Pedersen ’26 is part of the 2012 inaugural class who will be inducted into the School of Engineering’s Hall of Fame at a campus gala Friday, part of a celebration of the school’s 100th anniversary. Also honored will be John McHale ’78, Charles Wilke ’40, Emerson Climate Technologies and The Kettering Family Philanthropies.
Pedersen shared the Nobel Prize for discovering crown ethers during a long career at DuPont. Today, crown ethers are being used in everyday applications from isolating and removing extremely small yet harmful concentrations of mercury in drinking water to helping identify potassium in blood samples to aid in early diagnosis heart disease.
Pedersen, who died eight months after the living room gathering, turned down an honorary doctorate from his alma mater. When I asked him how he wanted history to remember him, he said, “The only honest thing I can say is as a man who knew what he could do.”