Issue Date: June 4, 2012
John Tanaka, 87, an emeritus professor of inorganic chemistry at the University of Connecticut, died at his home in Mansfield, Conn., on April 14, from complications associated with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Born in San Diego, Tanaka earned a B.S. in chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1951 and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Iowa State University in 1956 under George S. Hammond.
Tanaka then conducted research at South Dakota State University before accepting a National Aeronautics & Space Administration-funded postdoctoral position at the University of Pittsburgh. He joined the chemistry faculty at UConn in 1965 and worked there as an investigator, teacher, and mentor for more than 45 years.
Tanaka served as the university’s first Honors Program director, staying in the role for 22 years. He taught an inorganic laboratory class for which he cowrote the textbook “Experimental Methods in Inorganic Chemistry” with UConn colleague Steven L. Suib.
Tanaka’s early research focused on volatile inorganic compounds and ternary metal hydrides. Later, he conducted research into the failure mechanisms of electrical insulation.
He was active in the Dielectrics & Electrical Insulation Society and helped found Electrical InsulationMagazine. He was an emeritus member of ACS, joining in 1952.
Tanaka received a fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science in 1986. He also received the UConn Alumni Association Faculty Excellence Award for Public Service in 1994, the Millennium Medal from the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers in 2000, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the UConn chemistry department in 2011.
He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Patricia; and sons, Peter and Paul.
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