In college, Melvin only took one
biology class, a course in evolution and fossils (paleontology). This
taught him some of the basic lessons of biology, but perhaps most
importantly it did not confuse or clutter his thinking with a lot of wrong
ideas about how chemistry worked in living organisms. When he later tackled the problem of
photosynthesis, he could take a fresh view without a lot of prejudices.
During his senior (fourth and final) year of college, it became clear to Melvin that he wanted to study chemistry at the graduate level and that he was smart enough to do so. He sent applications before his senior year came to an end. Apparently, he had a good school record, because there were many positive replies. The one that captured Melvin’s heart was The University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, for his parents had moved back to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
Several experiments led Melvin on his way to his great discoveries and understanding “the path of carbon” in photosynthesis. He started out in graduate school with a four-year experiment involving the electrons of halogens, such as bromine and chlorine. These experiments were performed in the first two years of his graduate work.
At the end of the second year of graduate school, everyone (even today) is expected to take an oral examination. Melvin’s was so traumatic that he actually failed! He didn’t even remember whether he was excused from that meeting for the professors to deliberate, or if indeed he had to take his “orals” over again.
While he was writing his thesis (the “book” everyone has to write to finish a Doctoral Degree), Melvin came across a man in Manchester, England – Professor Michael Polanyi – who was studying the nature of chemical reactions . Melvin wrote this professor and was delighted to be invited to go to Manchester in 1935 for his postdoctoral education.