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Eli Pearce Dies At 86

Obituary: Chemistry professor, American Chemical Society past-president advocated for women and minorities in the sciences

by Susan J. Ainsworth
May 20, 2015

Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Eli M. Pearce
A photo of Eli M. Pearce.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Eli M. Pearce

Eli M. Pearce, 86, a retired research professor at New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering and a past-president of the American Chemical Society, died at a Brooklyn hospital on May 18 of complications from a broken hip and kidney disease.

“Eli was extraordinary in so many ways—a brilliant polymer scientist, a great leader at his university and within ACS, a passionate advocate for chemistry education reform, and a man who worked tirelessly his entire life for everyday chemists and to ensure that women and minorities had equal opportunities for advancement in society and in their professions,” says Madeleine Jacobs, former ACS executive director and chief executive officer.

Born Eli Perlmutter to Russian immigrants, Pearce changed his name as a young man to circumvent anti-Semitism in the working world. He received a B.S. degree in chemistry from Brooklyn College in 1949 before serving in the Army during the Korean War.

Pearce earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering) in 1958, studying under polymer chemistry pioneer Herman F. Mark and completing his thesis with Charles G. Overberger.

Early in his career, Pearce worked for DuPont, J.T.Baker, and Allied Chemical before becoming director of the Dreyfus Laboratory at Research Triangle Institute. In 1974, Pearce accepted an invitation from Mark to join the faculty at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.

Pearce was named University Professor of Chemistry & Chemical Engineering in 1990; he served as director of the Polymer Research Institute from 1980 until 1996 and as dean of Arts & Sciences from 1982 until 1990.

He published more than 250 papers on his research, which focused on polymer synthesis, degradation, and flammability.

Pearce garnered many awards, including the 2006 H. F. Mark Medal from the Austrian Research Institute for Chemistry & Technology. In 2009, he was named an ACS Fellow.

An emeritus member of ACS, Pearce served as the society’s president in 2002 and director-at-large on the ACS Board of Directors from 1999 until 2000 and again from 2001 until 2003. He was also a councilor with the Polymer Chemistry Division from 1982 until 1998, and an ex-officio councilor from 2004 until 2015.

Pearce was a strong supporter of the ACS Committee on Minority Affairs and the ACS Scholars Program, Jacobs says. He was also instrumental in establishing the Senior Chemists Committee because he believed that retired ACS members could be meaningful ambassadors in K–12 education and in the larger public, she adds. “His legacy is enormous, and he will be greatly missed.”

A memorial service will be held at Frank Campbell Funeral Home, 1076 Madison Ave., in New York City, at 11:30 AM on May 22.

Pearce’s first marriage, to Maxine Horowitz, ended in divorce. His second wife, Judith, to whom he was married for 32 years, died in 2012. He is survived by his son, Russell; his daughter, Debra Pearce-McCall; his stepson, Michael Ruby; his stepdaughter, Elizabeth Ruby Lyden; and 10 grandchildren.



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