Dr. Jonathan W. Amy - Doctor of Science

May 2014  


Jonathan W. Amy

Jonathan W. Amy 
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On March 3, 1923, a son, Jonathan, was born to Ernest and Theresa Amy in Delaware, Ohio. Ernest was an English professor at Ohio Wesleyan, and visiting lecturers stayed in their home, which was filled with books. Many of the books were inscribed by visiting authors, and Amy became an avid reader, a habit that remains today. Amy's education at Ohio Wesleyan was interrupted by World War II, during which he served as a communication officer in the U.S. Maritime Service. Following the war, he returned to Delaware, where he married Ruthanna Borden and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree from OWU. In the fall of 1948, the young family moved their house trailer to Purdue to start graduate studies in chemistry, where Henry Hass headed the department. An OWU graduate, Henry credited Amy's father Ernest with teaching him the importance of words, 10 of which appeared on each exam. 

Amy was assigned a teaching assistantship in physical chemistry, working with Professor Hunt. His electronic and mechanical skills were used building experimental lab equipment for expanded enrollments. This included pH meters, including the electrodes. Amy completed a Master of Science degree with Professor Thomas DeVries in 1950. Amy could not find a job developing new ways of recording sound, using ideas developed during long days at sea and experience gained building a recording studio at OWU. 

Professor Guy Mellon suggested Amy stay at Purdue to work with Walter Edgell, a new professor arriving from Harvard in the fall. Edgell wanted to set up a structural spectroscopy lab and would need help. And this was the start of the instrumentation facility that now bears the name “Jonathan Amy Instrumentation Facility.” 

Amy's Ph.D project involved building a microwave spectrometer, a new technique based on developments in military radar. The radiation lab at MIT produced a multivolume set describing the results and details of this research. Many parts were available in surplus stores. Two instruments had been built in the U.S., one at Westinghouse Research in Pittsburgh, and one at Duke University. Gas-phase frequency resonance measurements produced data that could be used to determine bond length and angles in simple molecules as well as low-level quantitative measurements. Other spectroscopic techniques were added to Edgell's laboratory. These required new instrumentation and Amy developed special relationships with instrument manufacturers to specify instrumental performance, evaluate prototypes, and make modifications. Many of these have lasted a lifetime. 

Once they had acquired a capability to make structural measurements, they then needed to make this ability available to the rest of the staff. Working with students and staff using their samples, Amy showed them what worked and what didn't. This required some structure and help in running samples and interpretation of results. This resulted in the mid-1950s with the formal creation of the Chemistry Instrumentation Facility with a mission of fusing science and technology through collaboration and creation. Sixty years later, the mission has expanded to include much of the university. The Industrial Associates Program, originated within chemistry before Bayh-Dole, provided a way of involving students with industry and for industrial representatives to spend time at Purdue. The Technical Assistance Program and the expansion of the Research Park have provided new tools. But the mission, to help people solve problems and spread the gospel, remains the same.

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