Jay Berry, in his book Gentlemen Under the Elms: A Tribute to Eleven of Brown's Faculty of the Past, succinctly sums up the professional accomplishments, the significance, and the legacy of Charles August Kraus: "Professor Kraus was one of the most eminent chemists of his era." Kraus is credited with breakthrough research projects that gained him international recognition, including research leading to the use of Pyrex glass and the mercury lamp, to the development and mass production of ethyl gasoline, and to the invention of a vacuum-tight seal. During World War II he also was consultant to the Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bomb.
Kraus was born in Indiana and grew up on a Kansas farm the youngest of five boys in a family of German background. His early academic pursuits did not prefigure his future accomplishments as a renowned chemist: as an undergraduate at the University of Kansas, which he entered in 1893, he majored in electrical engineering, and his Master's degree was in physics. After his graduation in 1898, his first positions at John Hopkins (1899-1900) and at the University of Kansas (1900-01) were in physics. From 1901 until 1904, he was instructor in physics at the University of California, and from 1904 to 1908 research assistant in physical chemistry at M.I.T., where he received his Ph.D. degree in chemistry in 1908. He stayed on as research associate until 1912, and as associate professor of physical chemistry until 1914. He became professor of chemistry and director of the chemical laboratory at Clark University the same year.
In 1923, Kraus left Clark. After a year of lecturing at Brown University he accepted an appointment as professor of chemistry and director of laboratories; but not without bringing his twelve graduate students with him. His arrival introduced a new era for Brown's Chemistry Department. New scholarships and fellowships in chemistry were established, and a new undergraduate course of study leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Chemistry was initiated. What Kraus was most noted for, though, was his commitment to his graduate students. He expected the same dedication from them, as an anecdote characteristic of Kraus, recalled by former Chemistry graduate student Edward Koubec, indicates: Kraus "expected his graduate students to work an eight-hour day - eight hours before dinner and eight hours after dinner."
Beyond his department, Kraus was an advocate of the expansion of the graduate school at Brown in its early days when graduate study was in its fledgling state. Commonly referred to as "The King" at the Chemistry Department, he was too immersed in research to consider administrative duties his own. However, Kraus did most of the fundraising and designing for a new chemistry lab at Brown. The dedication of the new, state-of-the-art Metcalf Research Laboratory in 1938 was part of the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society held at Brown that year. On the occasion, which was attended by former President Hoover, Kraus was named president of the American Chemical Society.
During World War I, he directed research at Clark University for the Chemical Warfare Service and acted as consulting chemist for the Federal Bureau of Mines. During World War II, he assisted in the purification of uranium salts for the atomic bomb research, and his research contributed to the use of potassium peroxide as a way of absorbing carbon dioxide in a submarine, thus liberating oxygen and allowing submariners to stay under water longer.
The list of honors bestowed on Charles Kraus is long and impressive: he was elected by his colleagues to be featured in American Men of Science, a prestigious biographical directory of distinguished scientists and leading researchers in their discipline. He was also a member of the National Academy of Science. In 1948, he was awarded the Distinguished Public Service Award, the Navy's highest civilian award, for his contribution to the development of synthetic rubber during the war and to the Navy Rebreather, a device used by aviators. He also received the William H. Nichols Medal of the New York section of the American Chemical Society in 1924, the Theodore William Richards Medal of the Chicago section in 1935 and the Northeastern section in 1936, the Willard Gibbs Medal of the Chicago section in 1935, the Franklin Medal in 1938 and the Priestly Medal in 1950. Kraus was also the recipient of five honorary degrees, including the Sc. D. from Brown in 1946.
Kraus spent most of his life in the lab, and his scholarly productivity is manifested in hundreds of published papers, many of which are considered classics in the field. Kraus retired in 1946, but this didn't much affect his work pace; his last research paper was published in 1967. He died the same year at the age of 91.
Created by: Linda Mac
Record added: May 29, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 70574933