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Former C&EN editor in chief Rudy M. Baum dies at 68

Baum tackled controversial topics and mentored a generation of science journalists

by Alexandra A. Taylor
March 25, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 12


Former Chemical & Engineering News editor in chief Rudy Baum died of cancer in Portland, Oregon, on March 21 at age 68. Baum served the American Chemical Society as an employee and volunteer for more than 40 years. He was a fellow of ACS and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Baum is remembered for his talent for translating technical concepts for the public, his mentorship, and his willingness to tackle controversial topics.

Baum graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Duke University in 1975 with a BA in chemistry. After attending Georgetown University Medical School for one year, he joined the ACS education division in 1976 to work on continuing education programs. He joined C&EN’s production and editing department in 1980. A year later he became C&EN’s West Coast bureau head, a role he held for 14 years, reviving C&EN’s coverage of West Coast science from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Among other topics, Baum pioneered C&EN’s coverage of atmospheric chemistry and the science and treatment of HIV/AIDS and was one of the first science writers to cover the discovery of fullerenes, Madeleine Jacobs, former editor in chief of C&EN and retired CEO and Executive Director of ACS, writes in an email. “Rudy was a brilliant voice and leader for ensuring that the global chemistry community and public at large received accurate and timely information about the most important issues of our time. He was an inspirational mentor of a generation of science journalists, was a valued friend to chemists globally, and a true Renaissance Man.”

Baum soon rose through C&EN’s ranks, becoming assistant managing editor, managing editor, deputy editor, and finally editor in chief in 2004, a position he held for 9 years. In this role, Baum helped premiere a new website for ACS and solidified C&EN as an indispensable source of information, Denise Creech, former director of ACS Membership and Scientific Advancement, writes in an email. “He transitioned C&EN into the digital news and online world.”

Baum’s editorials, many of which emphasized the threat posed by climate change, carried strong opinions and were a source of lively debate among readers that played out in C&EN’s letters to the editor. “I believe Rudy was ahead of his time,” Peter Dervan, the Bren Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at the California Institute of Technology, writes in an email. “I admired his integrity and courage to speak his mind on critical science issues facing humanity. He made clear his writings were his opinions only but in doing so he pushed his readers to think hard about science and society.” At the 2012 national meeting in Philadelphia, then-ACS President Bassam Z. Shakhashiri held a presidential event titled “Communicating Controversial Science: A Symposium Honoring Rudy M. Baum.”

“Rudy Baum was a legend. Even years after his retirement, the C&EN staff still share stories about him,” says C&EN editor in chief Bibiana Campos-Seijo. “But importantly, C&EN would not be what it is today without Rudy. He leaves a tremendous legacy and will be sorely missed.”

After his retirement in 2012, Baum served on ACS Climate Science Working Groups, helped to develop and revise the ACS Climate Science Toolkit, and contributed many ACS policy statements as a member of the ACS Committee on Science.

Baum is remembered for “his willingness to take on controversial subjects and speak with conviction around issues that were facing the chemistry enterprise,” says ACS CEO Tom Connelly. “Closer to home, so many staff members whom he mentored early in their career went on to leadership roles in ACS and beyond.”

Baum is survived by his wife, Jan; his son, Rudy Michael; his daughter, Grace; and his sister, Marianna. Donations may be made in his memory to the Friends of the Multnomah County Library or a charity of one’s choice.


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