Philadelphia Organic Chemists' Club (POCC)





Chemistry in

Allan R. Day


By Madeleine Joullie

Professor A. R. Day

The Allan R. Day Award

     Professor Allan R. Day, the man after whom this lectureship is named, died on April 22 of this year.  His death was a great loss to the many people upon whose lives he had such an enormous influence, and always for the better.
     Those who knew Allan well are aware of his dislike for praise and long-winded remarks. He was above all a very modest man.  Therefore I will try to keep my remarks short, for his sake –and even though his virtues and accomplishments were so many that I could go on and on.
     Allan was born in Bluffton, Ohio, on June 5, 1899.  After earning an A.B. degree from Bluffton College in 1921, he relocated to the Philadelphia area and began teaching chemistry and physics at Jenkintown High School.
     As his focus on chemistry sharpened, he started graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and took on a teaching assistantship in chemistry in 1924.  Upon receipt of his master of science degree in 1925, he resigned from his position at Jenkintown High School in order to devote his full energies to teaching and to doctoral studies at Penn.  
     The university early recognized his teaching and research potential, and offered him an instructorship in 1926, a year before he was awarded his Ph.D. degree.  He rose from instructor to assistant professor in 1929, to associate professor in 1948, and to a full professorship in 1952. 
     Allan's research interests varied greatly, ranging from heterogeneous catalysis, cumulene dianion chemistry, and organic reaction mechanisms, to organic synthesis, medicinal chemistry, and the chemistry of nitrogen heterocyclic systems.  To many, his name is synonymous with the chemistry of imidazole derivatives.  On the strength of his extensive contributions to such literature, it was only natural that he was called upon to write the chapter, "Imidazoles and Condensed lmidazoles," for Elderfield's series on Heterocyclic Compounds.  Allan co-authored this chapter with E.S. Schipper, one of his former graduate students.  One of Allan's last research interests–synthesis and stereochemical conformation of bridgehead nitrogen systems–involved both imidazole chemistry and a number of interesting heterocyclic systems, some of which showed marked hypotensive activity. His work on benzimidazoles, quinoxalines, triazoles, pyridopyrazines, and napththoquinones firmly established his work in the antimetabolite field, and his latest work described the synthesis of some potential antifibrillatory and antiarrhythmic agents. 
     In collaboration with his friend and long-time colleague, Professor John G. Miller, Allan and his students undertook a broad-range systematic study of the ammonolysis and aminolysis of carboxylate esters, and the influence of solvent effects.  These studies helped establish this reaction as one of the first examples of general base catalysis in organic chemistry, and are cited in every major textbook on organic reaction mechanisms.  Although Day's highly productive scholarship had been well known, it still came as a surprise, upon review, to learn that he had supervised the Ph.D. research of no fewer than 110 candidates.  As a graduate mentor, Allan emphasized independence, objectivity, and integrity.  Among the best known of his graduate students are ones who opted for academic careers, such as Professor Negishi and Professor Ed Arnett. Others became able research directors in industry.
     Amazingly, considering how involved and prolific his research and graduate training programs were, Allan Day also maintained substantial contact with undergraduate teaching and activities.  He showed an extraordinary interest in the affairs of the University, especially those concerned with student life and problems.  A significant measure of the respect he earned from students is the number of times that graduating classes selected him as one of the most inspiring teachers at Penn.
     Many of today's noteworthy scientists were inspired as undergraduates by Allan's teaching ways.  Recently Dr. Roy Vagelos, the president of Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories, mentioned Allan's role in his career. Many other well-known chemists, and Nobel Prize-winners are also in the ranks of his former students either as undergraduates or graduates .
     I believe these words from one of Allan's former students, a successful professional who recently made a donation to our chemistry library in Professor Day's name, are representative of the kinds of feelings I have heard from countless others:
     "As an undergraduate in the college from 1950 to '52, 1 had the great privilege and opportunity of studying under one of the most inspiring teachers of my academic career. Dr. Allan Day's philosophy and teaching methodology left an everlasting impression on me, as to how one can disseminate knowledge and at the same time have compassion for students.
     "I would like to stress that Dr. Day played a most significant role in my pre-professional training at the University. It is my hope that his successor in the School of Arts and Sciences will carry on the tradition of this renowned professor."
     Allan's patience and willingness to listen, especially in his dealings with undergraduates, were always an inspiring example to me. His own research interests never superseded his other, equal interest in undergraduate teaching. As a result, not only do many of today's professional chemists remember their former teacher with fond admiration, but so do many other professionals in fields such as medicine, biochemistry, and chemical engineering.
     Allan was a pioneer in introducing electronic mechanisms in the undergraduate curriculum, something that met with considerable resistance in those days, but which was in fact instrumental in inspiring undergraduates.  His lecture notes served as the basis for a textbook, Organic Chemistry, which he co-authored with me, another of his former graduate students.  In addition to this book, Allan authored textbooks on Inorganic Qualitative Chemical Analysis and Electronic Mechanisms of Organic Reactions. He also served as a consultant for several scientific companies in this region.
     An active participant in professional society affairs, Day served as chairman of the Philadelphia Section of the American Chemical Society, was a member of its Board of Directors, and represented it on the national Council.  He was a founding member and chairman of the prestigious Philadelphia Organic Chemists Club.  In addition, he was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the New York Academy of Sciences, Sigma Xi, Alpha Chi Sigma, and Phi Lambda Upsilon. 
     Amazingly enough, this full-time chemist and teacher also
maintained several other interests in addition to chemistry. He was an accomplished violinist, playing often with chamber music groups or with his wife Mae. He also composed songs, and even sold a few for use in Broadway musicals. He was an avid tennis player, regularly volleying on the courts almost to the very end.

Allan Russell Day

A.B. - 1921, Bluffton College
M.S. - 1925, University of Pennsylvania
Ph.D. - 1927, University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania:
1924-1926 - Assistant Professor of Chemistry
1926-1929 - Instructor in Chemistry
1929-1951 - Associate Professor of Chemistry
1952-1968 - Professor of Chemistry
1968-Present - Professor Emeritus

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