William Crews McGavock Lecture | Trinity University
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Along with its Thursday seminars, each academic year the chemistry department sponsors a visiting lecturer as part of the William Crews McGavock Lecture Series.

William Crews McGavock, former chair of the chemistry department and the professor who established the chemistry major, was active in academia and campus life at Trinity from 1939-1972. The McGavock Lecture Series honors his dedication to chemistry and scientific education.

Each academic year the chemistry department sponsors a visiting lecturer as part of the William Crews McGavock Lecture Series.

William Crews McGavock

Photo of William McGavockWilliam Crews McGavock was born in Springfield, Illinois, in 1906. Most of his early education was in Illinois, but the family moved to Columbia, Missouri, for his high school senior year. He attended the University of Missouri for five years, completing his B.A. and M.A. in chemistry during that time. He worked there with professor Herman Schlundt to develop a laboratory for refining radium and mesothorium. At that time, this was the only laboratory refining the thorium series, and notable scientists such as Madame Curie obtained their thorium materials from this laboratory. In 1929 McGavock was accepted as a graduate teaching fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. The faculty at Berkeley at that time included G. N. Lewis, E. O. Lawrence, Harvey White, W. F. Giaque, Joel Hildebrand, Wendell Latimer, Henry Eyring, and Robert Oppenheimer. McGavock heard seminars by Debye, Heisenberg, and Pauling, among others. Willard Libby was a student in one of the general chemistry sections McGavock supervised. He did his Ph.D. research in physical chemistry with professor E. D. Eastman. The research was a study of the heat capacity and entropy of rhombic and monoclinic sulfur from low temperatures up to the transition point, which constituted a check of the third law of thermodynamics.

Upon completion of his Ph.D. in 1933, McGavock went to work in the research and testing laboratories of the Shell Oil Company in Martinez, Calif., with special emphasis on the solvent extraction work of lubricating oil. In 1935 he returned to Berkeley to work for the Great Western Electrochemical Co., a company which two years later was to become the Great Western Division of the Dow Chemical Company. He worked on the chlorination of chromite ore, under the supervision of Willard Dow, whose father founded Dow Chemical. In 1939 he was lured away to form a chemistry department at the University of San Antonio, although his association with Dow continued during the summers of 1940 and 1941.

McGavock served as chair of the chemistry department at the University of San Antonio, which later merged with Trinity University of Waxahachie, Texas, from 1939-1957. He established a major in chemistry and a master's degree in chemistry. He taught general, quantitative analysis, qualitative analysis, organic, and physical chemistry. At times he taught special courses in thermodynamics, kinetics and mechanisms of reactions, advanced organic, advanced inorganic, radioactivity, electrochemistry, and colloid chemistry. He supervised fourteen master's theses on a range of subjects from the biological oxidation of some organic compounds to phase equilibria of the binary system lithium chloride-chromium chloride. His primary research interests were in the hydration-dehydration properties of chromium chloride, electrodeless nickel plating at high pH, and the phase diagram of NaCI-CrCI3. He received support for his research during these years from the Robert A. Welch Foundation and the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation. In 1963 he was named a Piper Professor. He resigned his position as chair in 1957 over a dispute concerning the future of the master's degree in chemistry. However, he and his wife, Ina Beth, who was a faculty member in the English department at Trinity, continued to serve the University until his retirement in 1972, at which time he was appointed professor emeritus.

Aside from his academic life at Trinity, McGavock served as a consultant to numerous businesses and other educational institutions in the San Antonio area. He continued to be actively involved in these types of activities after his retirement. He also enjoyed traveling and took many short courses and attended many conferences in subjects from art to advanced chemistry to international politics. He enjoyed photography and amassed a rather amazing collection of 35mm slides documenting his and his wife's travels. He remained an active teacher and scholar until his death in 1985.