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Paul von Ragué Schleyer Dies At 84

Obituary: University of Georgia scientist blazed new trails in computational chemistry

by Susan J. Ainsworth
November 25, 2014

Paul von Ragué Schleyer
Credit: U of Georgia
Credit: U of Georgia

Paul von Ragué Schleyer, 84, a towering figure in physical organic chemistry and a chemistry professor at the University of Georgia, in Athens, died on Nov. 21 at his home in Ila.

“Paul Schleyer was a titan among modern chemists,” says Peter J. Stang, professor of chemistry at the University of Utah and editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. “He was one of the few who understood and appreciated and made major, significant contributions to both experimental and computational, theoretical chemistry.”

Born in Cleveland, Schleyer earned an A.B. in chemistry from Princeton University in 1951. He then attended Harvard University, where he received an M.A. in chemistry in 1956 and a Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry in 1957 under Paul D. Bartlett.

Schleyer returned to Princeton as an instructor and was named Eugene Higgins Professor of Chemistry in 1969.

In 1976, he joined the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, in Germany, as codirector of the Organic Institute, and in 1993 he became founding director of its Computer Chemistry Center. He retired from the university as professor emeritus in 1998.

Schleyer continued his career as Graham Perdue Professor at the University of Georgia and served as a professorial fellow at the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry (CCQC).

Delving into a broad range of physical organic, organometallic, inorganic, and theoretical chemistry topics, Schleyer made vast contributions, including discovering ways of synthesizing adamantane and other cage molecules by rearrangement. He also identified new types of hydrogen bonding, elucidated solvolysis mechanisms, and expounded on the nature of reactive intermediates.

Schleyer discovered new molecular structures, particularly those involving lithium and electron-deficient systems. Most recently, he focused on nuclear magnetic resonance, aromaticity, and planar hypercoordination of carbon and other elements.

A prolific and highly cited chemist, he published more than 1,200 papers. He also authored or coauthored 12 books, some of which involved collaborations with Nobel Laureates Herbert C. Brown, George A. Olah, and John A. Pople.

During his career, Schleyer “turned to the new computational chemistry and, in cooperation with Pople and others, made it a most significant and active area of chemistry,” says Olah, who is a professor of chemistry at the University of Southern California. “He never received the recognition he fully deserved for his pioneering work, but future generations will remember him as one of the truly great chemists of our time.”

Schleyer received numerous honors. From ACS, he received the James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry in 1987 and an Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award in 1991.

He was past president of the World Association of Theoretical & Computational Chemists, coeditor emeritus of the Journal of Computational Chemistry, and editor-in-chief of the “Encyclopedia of Computational Chemistry.”

Schleyer was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. He was a 63–year member of ACS.

CCQC will continue with plans to present a symposium of Schleyer’s work on Feb. 11-12, 2015; it had been scheduled to coincide with his 85th birthday.

Schleyer is survived by his wife, Inge, whom he married in 1969; his daughters by his former marriage, Karen Harvey, Betti, and Laura; and four grandchildren.



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Joshua Telser (November 25, 2014 6:31 PM)
I had never met (or even seen) Paul von Ragué Schleyer, but when I took a physical organic course at Cornell as a senior in fall 1979, from Barry Carpenter, he mentioned Schleyer a lot. I can no longer remember the context, except that Schleyer had the coolest name. And I was stunned later to find out that he was from Cleveland, and not some Schloss in Germany.

There should have been a Nobel for him and M.J.S. Dewar together for bringing the computer into organic chemistry. My condolences to all at UGa.
Lewis Robinson M. D. (November 25, 2014 9:31 PM)
Paul was a wonderful undergraduate advisor to me. We'd work in his lab until late evening then go out for pizza and beer, discussing chemistry all the while. He had me for dinner at his home where I met his wife and young daughters. It was why Princeton back then (and hopefully now) was such a fabulous educational experience.

My work with him concerned intramolecular hydrogen bonding (notably to the pi electron cloud of aromatic rings), something quite useful in the revolution in biochemistry and molecular biology which followed.

Lewis Robinson M. D.
Princeton '60
Josep M. Oliva (November 26, 2014 2:31 AM)
Dear Friend,

Thank you for teaching us how to be scientists; critical with your own work to the limit and treating colleagues with kindness.
Pierre Mothé Esteves (November 26, 2014 6:38 AM)
We regret loosing such important physical-organic chemist. We will miss his contributions and influence in science, which left permanent marks in the chemistry in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Robert Buntrock (November 26, 2014 8:16 AM)
When I was at Princeton for my PhD ('62-'67) I didn't work with Paul but I knew him and took a course from him, Advanced Physical Organic Chemistry where we reviewed the chemistry of reactive intermediates: radicals, carbanions, and carbonium ions. The latter rapidly morphed into non-classical carbonium ions (NCCs) which involved current research and preprints. Schleyer took the middle road, mediating the warring factions in that brouhaha of chemists. He was one of the best teachers I ever had. He had a near photographic memory including virtually all of the chemistry he had ever seen. Seminars by guest speakers were quite challenging (to the speakers) since Paul vigorously questioned any proposals that were not rock solid. Great chemist, great teacher, great man.
Robert (November 26, 2014 8:48 AM)
I took Dr. Schleyer's Physical Organic Chemistry course at UGA just a few years ago. Even in his 70's Schleyer was one of the most passionate professors I ever encountered. My condolences to the others that knew him. He was a truly a great man and a titan in his field and I would like to think I am better for having learned from him.
John Morrison Galbraith (November 26, 2014 6:36 PM)
When I put Paul on my dissertation committee at UGA, everyone said I was crazy. He had a reputation for being tough and confrontational. However, I knew that if I had him on there, it would force me to REALLY know my stuff. Sure enough, he tore me apart on my defense, but was the first to congradate me when I passed. Very much a "tough love" sort of thing. I am a much better chemist today because of him.
Drahomír Hnyk (November 30, 2014 12:57 PM)
I will never forget Paul, will never forget working with him in Erlangen, will never forget visting him in Athens and staying three days in his house, with his cats. He was so generous just two weeks before his death and wrote an excellent letter of support for obtaining my Doctor of Sciences degree.

God bless you, Paul!

Drahomír Hnyk
Van Zandt Williams, Jr. (December 8, 2014 2:45 PM)
Paul was my adviser at Princeton in '64 and '65 when we worked on the synthesis of di- and tri-amantane. His knowledge of the literature on any subject of interest was legendary and his enthusiasm was contagious, but most of all, I valued his advice to get out of the laboratory often and explore other topics while still at school.
Maitland Jones (December 9, 2014 5:58 PM)
I shared an office suite with Paul at Princeton for many years. The time bridged (sorry!) the nonclassical carbonium (sorry again) ion controversy. Paul was a voice of reason and sense at a time when both the Winstein and Brown camps had lost their cool. His insightful comments and experiments did much to make sense of the question, had anyone the wit to listen. I was sorry to see him leave Princeton and experimental chemistry, but his contributions to theoretical organic and inorganic chemistry were prodigious. I profited much from conversations and counsel in those years, and will miss him greatly. And then there were those parties in New Hope………

I do not have a way of contacting Inge. If anyone out there can help me with that, I would appreciate it.

Maitland Jones,
Axel Jacobi von Wangelin (December 13, 2014 8:21 AM)
Prof. Schleyer was teaching advanced physical organic chem in the mid-1990s at Erlangen University where
I got to know him as a brilliant researcher and friendly person. Mostly I remember the aura of his office.
Firefighters might have issues with the paper overdose piled up on the many desks.
I keep some of his exciting articles on aromaticity, NICS and carbocations in my treasure trove of eternal favourites
and pass them on to my students. Thanks!
Eluvathingal D. Jemmis (December 14, 2014 1:02 AM)
Paul Schleyer was truly a genius and a great man. I knew little of him when I joined Princeton Graduate School in 1973. His course in structural organic chemistry in the first semester made the subject so exacting, almost like Mathematics and I was hooked for life. He was generous in taking some of us to the University of Munich for the Fall sem of 1974, living almost like a family. We returned to Germany in the Fall of ’76, this time to the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg. Paul and Inge took me in to Wagner Villa, their residence for many years at Erlangen, as a member of the family, braving all inconveniences a live-in student could bring in. I lived with them and an unending string of guests for the next two years. Paul cooked his favorite pork chops on Sundays, Inge made dinner most of the days and took care of everyone's cloths. I helped in everything, including taking care of the cats. This was gurukul education ( an age old system of education that used to be in India centuries ago where the student and the teacher lived under one roof) at its best. We began the day with ideas at the breakfast, discussions, debates, computations, and newer suggestions followed through the lab (we rod cycles to the Institute), and back at dinner, deciding late evening to continue at breakfast. I learned a lot from Paul. He is a constant fountain of ideas in any area of chemistry and continued with that unusual creativity till the very end. I have not met anyone with such total interest, enthusiasm, and commitment for research and teaching in chemistry...We miss you, Paul. Heartfelt condolences to Inge and to all who miss him.
John Collins, Princeton *76 (December 16, 2014 11:34 PM)
Paul's reputation for scientific rigor was legendary. No manuscript could be submitted without an exhaustive review of the literature. He took no greater delight but in discovering that a long-held belief was incomplete or just plain wrong. His students had not only to master the literature but to know it so thoroughly that they could hold their own with him in very vigorous debate. As i discovered when completing my doctoral thesis at Princeton in 1975, winning one of those debates was a de facto requirement for graduation. We argued in his office for two hours, loudly enough to attract a crowd outside the door. When it was over, he rummaged through his filing cabinet for a hidden bottle of Cutty Sark and poured a generous toast into the only vessel he had - his coffee cup. My thesis was signed the next day.
We continued at Erlangen where he brought his demanding style to German students not all of whom were initially accustomed to a relentless, 24/7 dedication to graduate education.
His infectious curiosity will be missed.
José-Luis Giner (February 10, 2015 1:04 PM)
My mother lives in Erlangen and when I was a postdoc in Switzerland during the '90s, while visiting her, I went to the chemistry department to see if there were any seminars etc. I was wandering the halls and saw an interesting series of paintings. As I was looking at them, the professor came out of his office, saw me and started to talk to me about the artwork. Eventually, I recognized his American accent and I suppose we switched to English then. This is how I met Professor Schleyer. Before long we had a joint paper about an interesting rearrangement in marine natural products. I was very sad to find out today that he had died. I remember him as a very nice person, truly kind.
Alexander Kos (April 22, 2015 1:18 PM)
…and I thought he would publish papers forever. My first job was to calculate C2LI4, and when I presented the classical and perpendicular form he only said. “Do the complete job!” This was the beginning of an extremely successful time as postdoc in Erlangen. We shared uncounted bottles of Frankenwein, had the liveliest discussions about God and the world. He knew more than only chemistry! I am really sorry that he left us … and probably left behind a few truckloads of xeroxed papers.
William Baron (June 20, 2015 9:46 AM)
Paul was the second reader for my PhD thesis at Princeton (68-72 Maitland Jones Jr. Group). We meet many times during the years leading up to my finishing to discuss my research progress. The Maitland Jones group, of which I was a Jones Alley active member, and Schleyer groups were near neighbors and we would see each other almost daily. When I was ready to apply for an Alexander Von Humboldt post-doc research fellowship, Paul generously helped critique my application and German. I also remember him fondly as an impassioned champion for organic and reactive intermediate discussions at departmental seminars as the gaints of chemistry would visit Princeton for departmental seminars. Through his mentorship and graduate course he helped me become a physical organic chemist. I still remember the classical music that he enjoyed too. Thank you Paul.
Gheorghe D. Mateescu (July 8, 2017 3:20 PM)
My admiration for Paul, in every respect, will never cease. I am sure, he and his work will always be remembered.

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