1903-1996

Hubert Newcombe Alyea

Location: First Floor, West Wing, South Wall, Sequence 2

Source: Chemical Heritage Foundation

Sponsor: Evelyn P. and James E. Jackson
Sheldon L. Knoespel
Margaret Kandelin Sutherland


Alyea had a genius for bringing science to life in the classroom. Amid explosions and swishing clouds of carbon dioxide he explained the mysteries of chemistry with contagious enthusiasm. Alyea invented a teaching system known as Tested Overhead Projection Series (TOPS) that incorporated a kit for colorful demonstrations as well as an overhead projection system. His texts "TOPS in Chemistry" and "Tested Demonstrations in General Chemistry" were widely used and translated into many languages. His lectures reached people around the world by television. In 1945 he initiated a demonstration lecture "Atomic Energy: Weapon for Peace" that he presented some 2800 times in many countries to audiences estimated at 1.5 million people.

After attending an Alyea chemistry demonstration at a World's Fair, Walt Disney was inspired to create the film "The Absent-Minded Professor" (1960), and invited Alyea to Hollywood to rehearse actor Fred MacMurray, who played the role.

Alyea was born in Clifton, NJ, attended Princeton University for his undergraduate (1925) and Ph.D. (1930) degrees, then joined the faculty where he remained until retirement in 1972. Well after his formal retirement he continued to lecture on the nature of scientific discovery, "Lucky Accidents, Great Discoveries and the Prepared Mind", a fast-paced set of demonstrations, stories, poems and ad-libs. Alyea won many teaching awards, and served as an associate editor of the Journal of Chemical Education.