Science and Teaching
Trained as a physical chemist, Mellon was hired at Purdue in 1919 to teach analytical chemistry – one of only two analytical professors on the seven-member faculty. When he arrived the department had almost no equipment.
Some of Mellon’s early instruments were acquired from other departments. When he purchased his lab’s first General Electric instrument, Mellon had to personally meet with Purdue President Edward C. Elliott to request funding. Elliott approved its $2500 price tag.
As a researcher, Mellon developed colorimetry as an analytical technique to study the composition of solutions and gases by absorption of light at a fixed wavelength. He was also active in the broader field of spectroscopy to characterize ions and molecules by their unique signatures ("spectra") as a function of light wavelength.
Retired chemistry professor Dale Margerum joined the faculty at Purdue in 1954 and worked with Mellon. “His science was solid chemistry. But more importantly, Mellon helped build a program. The discipline is now very strong in the Midwest, when you consider some departments today have no analytical program,” Margerum says.
Mellon was assigned to teach the junior-level quantitative chemical analysis course, a duty that he continued until 1962. In his 50-plus years as a teacher of chemistry and chemical engineering students, Mellon was a memorable figure. “I clearly remember his meticulous lecturing style, as well as his frequent appearances in lab wearing his beautifully tailored three-piece suits,” recalls Sally Newcomb, a 1954 chemistry alumna, and retired science educator and author.
“He was always in the lab and that made a big impact on undergrads,” Margerum remembers. Newcomb points out that the path for women students was difficult fifty years ago. “Professor Mellon was unusual for his time in that he didn’t see men and women in his classes, but rather, just all chemistry students, all deserving of the same care and attention,” she says.
Oral History of Guy Mellon, Derek Davenport & William Jensen
My Three Score and Ten Purdue Years (1919-1989), M.G. Mellon
Library entrance portrait