Issue Date: December 19, 2011
Robert J. Silbey
Robert J. Silbey, 71, a professor of chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and dean of its School of Science from 2000 to 2007, died of cancer on Oct. 27.
Born in Brooklyn, Silbey received a B.S. in chemistry from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York in 1961 and a Ph.D. in theoretical physical chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1965. He then served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Silbey joined the MIT faculty in 1966, becoming head of the chemistry department in 1990. A talented academic leader, he served as director of the Center for Materials Science & Engineering in 1998 before becoming dean.
Silbey’s research involved theoretical studies of single-molecule spectroscopy at low temperatures, energy and electron transfer and relaxation in molecular aggregates, the optical and electronic properties of conjugated oligomers and polymers, and the transport of charge in organic systems. Most recently, he focused on energy transfer and quantum dynamics in photosynthesis.
Committed to excellence in education, he supported approaches such as the Technology-Enhanced Active Learning program, which improved methods for teaching freshman physics. He also directed the construction of the Brain & Cognitive Sciences Complex and worked to support women and underrepresented minorities on the faculty.
Silbey received numerous MIT teaching awards, and in 1996, he was named a Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow, an honor that recognizes outstanding classroom teaching at MIT.
He was honored with the Max Planck Research Award of the Alexander Van Humboldt Foundation and was a Dreyfus Foundation Teacher-Scholar and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow.
Silbey was a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Physical Society. He was a member of ACS, joining in 1991.
Silbey is survived by his wife, Susan; daughters, Jessica and Anna Silbey; and four grandchildren. A memorial celebration is planned for early 2012.
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