Nicholas Turro Dies At 74 | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: November 27, 2012

Nicholas Turro Dies At 74

Obituary: Esteemed chemist and Columbia University professor forged new paths in photochemistry
Department: ACS News
Keywords: obituary, Nicholas J. Turro
Credit: Columbia University
Portrait of Nicholas J. Turro
Credit: Columbia University

Nicholas J. Turro, a world leader in the field of organic photochemistry and the William P. Schweitzer Professor of Chemistry at Columbia University, died of pancreatic cancer on Nov. 24. He was 74.

Turro “made deep and lasting contributions to the understanding of reaction pathways of highly energetic molecules,” says Harry B. Gray, a professor of chemistry at California Institute of Technology, who counted Turro as a close friend for nearly 50 years.

He was “a truly spectacular teacher-scholar who made everyone he worked with better,” Gray says. “A scientist who loved people, Nick devoted enormous amounts of time and energy to training students of all ages.”

Turro earned a B.A. degree in chemistry at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., in 1960, and a Ph.D. degree in organic photochemistry at Caltech, under George S. Hammond, in 1963. He spent the following year at Harvard University working as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow with Paul D. Bartlett.

Turro then joined Columbia’s chemistry faculty as an instructor, becoming professor in 1969 and Schweitzer professor in 1981. He became professor of chemical engineering in 1997 and professor of environmental engineering and materials science the following year.

In addition to chairing Columbia’s chemistry department from 1981 to 1983, he cochaired the chemical engineering department with George W. Flynn from 1997 to 2000.

Throughout his career, Turro was recognized for laying the foundations for modern organic photochemistry, supramolecular photochemistry, and spin chemistry through his pioneering research.

Turro “was one of the first organic chemists to employ time-resolved laser spectroscopic methods to generate and characterize short-lived organic intermediates, such as carbenes and radical pairs,” Gray notes. In the late 1970s, he discovered that photolysis of ketones in micelles could be used to separate magnetic from nonmagnetic isotopes, he adds. In work that employed “the full power of physical organic chemistry,” Turro also conducted “groundbreaking experiments” on the photoreactions of molecules adsorbed on porous silica and zeolites, Gray says.

Credited with more than 900 research papers, he authored several influential books, including “Molecular Photochemistry.”

Turro received numerous accolades, including the inaugural George S. Hammond Award from the Inter-American Photochemical Society earlier this year. The American Chemical Society honored him with many awards, including the Arthur C. Cope Award in 2011, the Willard Gibbs Medal of the ACS Chicago Section in 2000, and the Award in Colloid & Surface Chemistry in 1999.

In recognition of his excellence in teaching, Turro received the NSF Director’s Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars in 2002 and ACS’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education in 2004.

He was elected as a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1981 and became a member of ACS in 1960.

A funeral mass will be held at Mt. Carmel Roman Catholic Church, in Tenafly, N.J., at 10 AM on Nov. 28.

Turro is survived by his wife of 52 years, Sandra; daughters, Cynthia Harty and Claire Styrbicki; and five grandchildren.

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Maureen Pirofsky (November 27, 2012 10:35 PM)
Nicholas Turro is the brother of my close friend Marilyn. It was very sad to hear that he passed away. He has contibuted so much worldwide with such devotion and knowledge in his field. My heart goes out to his family and friends.
John H. Dawson (November 28, 2012 12:29 AM)
In addition to being an outstanding chemist, Nick Turro was an exceptional teacher who made organic chemistry exciting in the classroom to countless Columbia undergraduates, including myself, over his long career. Taking his organic chemistry class at Columbia was a pivotal experience for me and started me toward a career in chemistry.
Ana Milena Santanilla (November 28, 2012 12:32 AM)
God may open the paradise doors for him and bring peace to his family.
M.H. Ghatee (November 28, 2012 7:13 AM)
In have inspired Professor Turro not only by his book Molecular Photochemistry, but also in the period I was in Notre Dame University. We always compared our experimental results in Professor J.K. Thamos Lab with the Turro Lab's results. We have used to always say: our results, Turro's results.
M.H. Ghatee (November 28, 2012 7:14 AM)
In have inspired Professor Turro not only by his book Molecular Photochemistry, but also in the period I was in Notre Dame University. We always compared our experimental results in Professor J.K. Thamos Lab with the Turro Lab's results. We have used to always say: our results, Turro's results.
Haitao (November 28, 2012 11:27 AM)
Sad to see him go. Big loss to Columbia.
David L. Cedeno (November 28, 2012 3:48 PM)
Nicholas Turro's work on photochemical processes and his popular textbook on Molecular Photochemistry have shaped our current understanding of these important field. His legacy will survive.
My deepest condolences.
Qing-Xiao Tong (November 28, 2012 8:49 PM)
It is very sad for us to hear my supervior's doctoral supervior passed away. It is a big loss for our modern photochemistry research field. We will miss him forever!
Anoklase J.-L. Ayitou (November 29, 2012 12:49 AM)
Sad to see him leave too early...He is a grandpa of mine...and I spent some time in his lab in Summer 2010. So knowledgeable, so inspirational.
His legacy will live on...Don't Worry Prof. Turro we will continue and finish what you've started
I was hoping to see you one more again in January 2013 at the I-APS conference.
My heart goes to Sandy and to his family.
Ed Corcoran (December 2, 2012 2:02 PM)
Nick and Sandy were our neighbor back in 1965 in the faculty apartments, and an occasional handball partner. Just a week or so ago I saw the notice of his Hammond Award and was going to write him congratulations when I run across this announcement of his death. I had the Hammond announcement - with the same picture - on the top of my desk. How sad. Ed Corcoran
robert e. mccarhty, m.d. (December 4, 2012 8:57 PM)
Nick and I went to Middletown High School. we ran cross country together. He was the
smartest guy in school bar none. He was always High Honors
Tim Biegeleisen (March 11, 2013 7:43 PM)
I was an undergraduate student who did research with Nick Turro in the year 2000. Of all the mentors and professors I have had, I can safely say with regard to Nick Turro that they don't make them like they used to.

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