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Robert Herman was born on August 29, 1914, and grew up in the Bronx area of New York City. Bob entered the City College of New York in 1930 majoring in physics. He told me that there was an excellent student body at the City College in those days, including many of the best students from the New York City high schools, who for economic reasons had little choice but to go to the free city colleges. With the high quality of the student body, you can imagine the intense discussions that regularly took place over coffee in the college cafeteria. These no doubt ranged from the most esoteric to the very pragmatic. Political issues were of course a serious topic. In my many heated discussions with Bob that encompassed debatable issues, my view would seldom prevail because his debating skills had been so well honed in the crucible of the City College cafeteria.
At the City College, Bob studied with (in Bob's words) “that wonderful pedagogue Mark Zemansky” who became world renown for his textbook on thermodynamics. Bob and Mark Zemansky developed a special relationship. When Bob learned that I.C. Maxwell (the great British scientist) had, upon reading the Gibbs papers on thermodynamics constructed in plaster a Gibbs surface [coordinates: U(energy)-V(volume)-S(entropy)] for water, he embarked on a similar project. Bob's Gibbs surface was displayed in his first publication a (1936) paper coauthored with Zemansky. Unlike Maxwell's, Bob's surface was color coded and quite artistic (additional comments on Bob's artistic leanings follow.)
Upon graduation, cum laude, with special honors in 1935 and spending one additional year at City College as a graduate teaching assistant, Bob entered Princeton University in the fall of 1936. His friend, Robert Hofstadter [Nobel Prize in 1961], had enrolled the previous year and immediately introduced Bob to his research supervisor, Edward Condon, a brilliant theoretical physicist. Bob began working on infrared molecular spectra and judging from the publication record, he and Hofstatder worked closely together. Bob told me that he and Hofstatder were able to estimate the lengths of the two bonds flanking the hydrogen atom in dimers of acetic acid. These findings were