During this interview, Dr. Wesley (Wes) Memeger details his early life in Florida. He describes his family, headed by his grandfather, working and travelling as migrant farmers. He then describes his elementary school, Webster School, and family beach trips to a segregated beach near Saint Augustine.
Memeger goes on to describe his first remembered experience with science, doing pendulum experiments in eighth grade physical science class. He then details his high school years at Excelsior (later Richard J. Murray High School), both his studies and his participation on the football team. He also recounts an incident during a summer working on a flower farm when his mother stood up for him over the objection of the farm's white foreman.
Memeger then describes how he came to attend Clark College. He details various aspects of his college experience, including his dormitory and his chemistry professors. He discusses the impact that his English professor, M. Carl Holman, had on his life. He also details his participation in a 1961 student day of protest for civil rights. He then discusses his membership in Omega Psi Phi and how he met his future wife, Harriet.
Memeger goes on to discuss his graduate education at Adelphi University, including the impact that being a new father had on his graduate school experience. He then details his hiring by DuPont and describes the three other Black chemists who were at the company when he was initially hired. He also discusses how DuPont used a composite sketch of a Black contract employee on the cover of the 200th company anniversary issue of DuPont Magazine.
Memeger then details his involvement on the Kevlar project, describes the molecular structure of the monomer of Kevlar and Kevlar products. He then discusses his patents and other aspects of his career at DuPont. He then speaks about his children and his involvement with the Delaware community serving on the boards of cultural institutions. Finally, Dr. Memeger discusses his life as an artist, from an early sketch of his son to his current projects and his collaboration with his wife, who is a fiber artist.
Dr. Wesley (Wes) Memeger Jr. spent the majority of his 32-year career with DuPont at the Pioneering Research Laboratory, where he focused on research and development of polymers, including Kevlar and Nomex. Born in 1939 into a family of farmers in Riverdale, Florida, he was educated in the segregated school system in St. Augustine, first at Webster Elementary and followed by Excelsior and Richard J. Murray High School, where he graduated in 1957.
After receiving a scholarship and securing a job in the chemical storeroom on campus to further support his studies, Memeger majored in chemistry in Atlanta, Georgia at Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University - the first HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in the Southern United States. During this time, inspired by his English professor M. Carl Holman (1919-1988), he participated in student protests for Black civil rights. He also met his future wife Harriet, a fellow student, while attending Clark College.
Memeger furthered his studies in organic chemistry during graduate school at Adelphi University in New York, where he specialized in nucleophilic displacement reactions. He received his PhD in 1966 with a dissertation entitled "Field Effects in Bimolecular Displacement Reactions."
In 1965, he started his career as a research chemist in the Pioneering Research Laboratory at the DuPont Experimental Station, where he focused on polymers. He was the fourth Black PhD chemist to be hired at the Experimental Station. In 1971, Dr. Memeger joined the Kevlar working group, where he streamlined the synthesis of Kevlar using a single solvent. This contribution allowed the preparation of Kevlar to be more commercially viable. The solvent, hexamethylphosphoramide (HMPA), was later replaced in commercial Kevlar production by a solution of N-methyl-pyrrolidone and calcium chloride over concerns of HMPA's toxicity.
While working to find a melt processible method for Kevlar production, Dr. Memeger and his colleagues discovered a foamed product composed of a polymer structurally similar to Kevlar. This discovery led to the development of expanded Nomex paper. In his later career, he also worked in Central Research & Development for nylon, where he researched methods of ring-opening polymerization of macrocyclic lactams for the purpose of improving nylon manufacturing processes. Over the course of his career he amassed fourteen patents. He left the Experimental Station in 1997, remaining with the company in a consulting capacity before fully retiring in 1999.
Having a long-standing interest in art, Dr. Memeger began painting in earnest in the 1980s. His paintings are often meditations on geometric themes. He has exhibited on multiple occasions at the Blue Streak Gallery, Wilmington, Delaware; Carolyn Roberts Gallery, Yorklyn, Delaware; and Gallery 919, Wilmington, Delaware. He and his wife Harriet Memeger, a fiber artist, collaborated on a show for ArtSpace at the Siegel Jewish Community Center in Wilmington in 2014.
In addition to his scientific and artistic pursuits, Dr. Memeger has served on the board of directors of various charitable and cultural organizations. In the early 1970s, he joined the board of the Delaware Council on Crime and Justice. He later served on the boards of the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Delaware Art Museum, the Delaware Symphony Association, among others. He received the Christi Award for Philanthropic Activities in the Arts from the Christiana Cultural Arts Center in 2007.