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Philip J. Stephens

by Susan J. Ainsworth
December 10, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 50

Photo of Philip J. Stephens.

Philip J. Stephens, 71, a professor emeritus of chemistry in the University of Southern California’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, died on July 31 in Los Angeles after a battle with a dementia-related illness.

Born in West Bromwich, England, Stephens earned a doctorate in chemistry in 1964 at the University of Oxford.

He studied at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the University of Chicago before joining the faculty at USC Dornsife in 1967. Stephens served as chemistry department chair from 1992 to 1998.

Stephens pioneered the use of two chiral spectroscopies—magnetic circular dichroism and vibrational circular dichroism—and the application of density functional theory to ascertain the absolute molecular configurations of organic molecules and biomolecules. Stephens’ techniques have been applied in the pharmaceutical industry to determine drug structures, help calculate safe temperatures for accelerated stability studies, and screen for better drug candidates.

Before becoming ill in late 2009, Stephens was credited with more than 200 publications. He received an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the USC Associates Award for Creative Scholarship & Research. Stephens was named a fellow of the Royal Society in 2008 and was a member of ACS from 1972 until 2008.

The USC Dornsife chemistry department will hold a symposium to honor Stephens’ work on March 8, 2013.

Stephens is survived by his wife, Anne-Marie, and his daughter, Melanie.

Obituary notices of no more than 300 words may be sent to Susan J. Ainsworth at and should include an educational and professional history.


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