“Pretend you’re not in Frick, but that you’re walking down a beach in Southern California, watching the waves. Hold that image for three seconds. Now go to it. Go Princeton!”


Photo: Mike Beahan/PAW Archives

Those were the final instructions of Miles Pickering before the start of the Princeton-Yale Titration Contest in December 1978. Contestants were given a sample of a chemical compound, mixed with an inert substance, and asked to determine the concentration of the mixture. The team with the most students scoring in Pickering’s “golden circle” — within one percentage point of the actual concentration — would be the winner.

Pickering, a Yale alumnus, Princeton lab instructor, and in PAW’s words, “the Abner Doubleday of intercollegiate titration,” initiated the contest in 1977. Yale won, and a summary of the project later earned a place in the Journal of Chemistry Education.

In 1978, Yale again proved more proficient in a closely contested rematch: 51 percent of its team finished in the golden circle, compared to 49 percent for the titrating Tigers.