Joseph DiGiorgio’s Life and Career


Joe’s interest in chemistry first started when he got a chemistry craft kit. While sin high school he developed a hobby and keen interest for pyrotechnics. He would enjoy making homemade explosives and gun powder and then setting them off. One of these was gun powder and magnesium which was taken near a lake and blown up there. The government noticed this and assigned a team from the University of Washington to investigate. However, due to the enormous size of the explosion the team thought it was a meteorite, and Joe and his buddies never got in trouble. Other homemade experiments included making nitrogen triiodide and nitroglycerin.

He did his B.E. at Johns Hopkins University in Chemical Engineering in 1954, and graduated at the top of his class. He acknowledges that having a good high school physics teacher greatly helped him in his college classes stating that more was covered in his high school physics courses compared to college.

Afterwards, he did his M.A. in Chemistry and Ph. D. in Physical Organic Chemistry in 1957 and 1960, respectively, at Johns Hopkins. There he met his first wife who specialized in molecular spectroscopy. He had many enjoyable and memorable experiences working with her and helping her with the experimental side of her research while doing his own. Her work focused on formaldehyde, and they used a spectrograph that was only available in three locations in the world at the time. She also worked with structures to determine their energetic states and stability, and deuterium isotope levels. Joe helped with the experimental aspect while she focused on the numbers. Most of Joe’s work focused on allylic alcohols and their stereochemistry and conformational analysis. He used photo sensitized oxidation to synthesize steroids for model compounds.

During his post-doc at Johns Hopkins, he received a National Institute of Health Fellowship, as well as a Canadian National Research Council Foundation Fellowship. He worked with Dr. Jones developing Raman Spectroscopy and was a co-author for a chapter in the “Standard Methods of Chemical Analysis”, which was published in 1964.

Throughout his career and life Joe taught at Johns Hopkins, the University of Ottawa, and Sacramento State University where he is still a professor emeritus. Most of his teaching involved explaining how to use IR, Raman Spectroscopy, UV, Mass Spectrometry, and NMR to elucidate chemical structures. At Johns Hopkins he taught general chemistry, discussion sections, and organic chemistry. At Sacramento State he taught mainly organic chemistry, was the chemical expert in coordinating the construction of a new building for the chemistry department, and would teach about the physical properties of two similar but different apparatus such as a hotplate vs. a radiant oven. At the University of Ottawa he taught molecular spectroscopy and was in charge of the research group if his PI had to leave for any reason.

To this day, he is most fond of his family and his childrens’ accomplishments, many of whom graduated at the top of their classes and became engineers. He is also fond of his second wife who he married on January 24, 1985, as well as his grandchildren.

Author: Kate Gibson

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