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COVID-19 claims the life of beloved chemistry professor

Dennis Peters of Indiana University dies from complications of COVID-19

by Linda Wang
April 20, 2020


This is a photo of Dennis Peters.
Credit: Indiana University
Dennis Peters

Dennis G. Peters, 82, a beloved chemistry professor at Indiana University, died on April 13 from complications related to COVID-19. He was just days away from celebrating his 83rd birthday. Peters contracted COVID-19 while he was hospitalized for an injury that occurred during spring break. Peters was Herman T. Briscoe Professor of Chemistry at Indiana University, and was teaching until his injury occurred.

William F. Carroll Jr., an adjunct professor at Indiana University and a past president of the American Chemical Society, says he was heartbroken to hear the news of Peters’s passing. Peters was Carroll's research adviser in graduate school.

“What do you say about a man who taught intro chemistry for 57 years, essentially 113 consecutive semesters and more than 15,000 students,” Carroll says. “What do you say about a guy who wrote or co-wrote 5 textbooks that were successful in selling well over 140,000 copies who then used most of the money from the sales of the books to fund things in the laboratory? If we needed a piece of equipment and we didn’t have a grant for it, Dennis would reach into his own pocket.”

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Carroll says Peters instilled in him a sense of independence and perseverance. “Dennis Peters let me fail, and I needed that,” Carroll says of his graduate school experience. “But he always encouraged me to try again.”

Peters earned a BS in chemistry from California Institute of Technology in 1958 and a PhD in analytical chemistry from Harvard University in 1962. He joined the Indiana University faculty in 1962. He was an ACS member for 63 years.

“Dennis Peters was the most trusted and revered member of the Indiana University chemistry department and, without doubt, its most accomplished and highly regarded classroom lecturer,” says Gary M. Hieftje, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. “He was also the glue that maintained cohesiveness among the faculty involved in analytical chemistry and was in large part responsible for the department to achieve international prominence in that field.”

Peters was also known for his larger than life presence, despite his small stature. “He leapt up from chairs in the graduate chemistry advising office and wowed children and adults alike with flashes of colors and bright fires during Magic of Chemistry programs, clad in a colorful lab coat decorated with chemical illustrations, mathematical formulas and equations,” wrote Joey Bowling in a recent article about Peters in the Indiana Daily Student newspaper.

Carroll says in addition to his passion for teaching, Peters was “a rabid Indiana University basketball fan. He had season tickets for 50 years.” Peters is survived by his nephew, Ruben Portugues and niece, Iliana Portugues.


This article was updated on April 20, 2020, to indicate that Dennis Peters was William F. Carroll's research adviser, not the other way around.



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