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Norman Hackerman Dies At 95

Steadfast educator forged new paths to discovery

by Susan J. Ainsworth
June 25, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 26

Credit: Michael Heylin/C&EN
Credit: Michael Heylin/C&EN

Norman Hackerman, a champion for chemistry and basic research, died on Saturday, June 16, in Temple, Texas. He was 95.

Hackerman was an emeritus chemistry professor and former president of both the University of Texas, Austin, and Rice University, in Houston. He headed the institutions, successively, from the turbulent 1960s until the mid-1980s.

An accomplished and productive physical chemist, he maintained a research group continuously throughout his career and taught classes until the end of his life. He focused on corrosion and chemistry at interfaces.

"More than any other American, Norman Hackerman's strong support for investment in basic research was the dominant factor in American science policy over the past 50 years, including the years he served as chairman of the National Science Board," says Marye Anne Fox, chancellor and distinguished professor of chemistry at the University of California, San Diego.

Passionate about science education, not only for scientists, but also for the public, Hackerman made substantive contributions to the improvement of K–12 science and math instruction, she adds.

As a leader, "his voice was a strong one for the highest ethical principles, imbued with rationality, even when this involved great personal cost," Fox says.

Born in Baltimore, Hackerman earned his bachelor's degree in 1932 and his doctorate in chemistry in 1935 from Johns Hopkins University.

He taught at Johns Hopkins, Loyola College in Baltimore, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, in Blacksburg. In 1943, during World War II, he spent a year working on the Manhattan Project, helping to build the first atomic bomb.

Hackerman joined the University of Texas in 1945 as an assistant professor of chemistry and rose through the ranks to become president from 1967 until 1970. He then left to become president of Rice until retirement in 1985.

"He was a visionary who propelled Texas into a new era of scientific inquiry with his commitment to building research capabilities, a man of undiminished energy and vitality," William C. Powers Jr., president of UTexas Austin, says.

Hackerman was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Among his many honors are the American Institute of Chemists??? Gold Medal, the ACS Charles Lathrop Parsons Award, the Vannevar Bush Award of the National Science Board, and the National Medal of Science.

In addition to serving on the National Science Board, which he chaired from 1974 to 1980, Hackerman served on advisory committees and boards of several technical societies and government agencies, including the Texas Governor???s Task Force on Higher Education.??He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and had served as editor of the Journal of Electrochemistry and as president of the Electrochemical Society.

He was longtime chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Robert A. Welch Foundation, one of the nation???s oldest and largest sources of private funding for basic research in chemistry. In 2000, the foundation created the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research to recognize the work of young researchers in Texas.

"He was approachable and enormously incisive in cutting through the tangle of bureaucratic issues that always came up," says Norman Metzger, who served alongside Hackerman on the National Research Council. "He was one of those wonderful people who were at once tough, dismissive of nonsense, and enormously kind and thoughtful toward anyone, no matter their station in life."

Hackerman is survived by three daughters and one son. His wife, Gene, died in 2002. An emeritus member, he joined ACS in 1936.


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