“Nonsense, McBain”: a century of micelles

Appeared earlier in the IACIS Newsletter 50 of February 2013.

J.W. McBain (1882-1953)

It was one of these wonderful little COST CM1101 workshops, this one being on Malta the very beginning of this year, where Andreea Pasc from the Université de Lorraine told us that this year micelles are having their hundredth name day. The reference that was given, is a funny one as it does not pop-up when doing a typical literature search. It is actually pointing to a discussion following a lecture by Wolfgang Pauli from Vienna (!) on the viscosity of protein solutions in which James W. McBain indeed uses the term as an alternative to “colloidal ion”, the more common term in those days, in a short contribution entitled Mobility of Highly-charged Micelles.

While searching, one comes across the statement in the header. No doubt one of the present sources is the worthy website by Michael Blandamer of the University of Leicester that serves as a very reliable reference on applied thermodynamics. Fredric Menger’s 1979 review on the structure of micelles is what is mentioned as the source. According to these authors — and all “copycats” — it was made by “a leading physical chemist chairing the meeting” of the Royal Society of London. Of course, it would then be interesting to know who might have made such a bold remark. From the citation one finds that the authors got this information from McBain himself, who in 1926 wrote[1] the — to me — slightly different “… So novel was the finding that when in 1925 some of the evidence for it was presented to the Colloidal Committee for the Advancement of Science in London, it was dismissed by the Chairman, a leading international authority, with the words, “Nonsense, McBain. …” From where Fredric Menger, more than 50 years after McBain’s account, got his information is unclear but it remains to be seen whether the chairman indeed was a physical chemist. She could have been a physicist for that matter …

[1] in “Colloid Chemistry”, Vol. 5, J. Alexander, Ed., Reinhold, New York, 1926, p 102.

Ger Koper, Newsletter Editor

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