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Remembering the chemists we lost to COVID-19

The chemistry community shares memories of those we lost to COVID-19

by Linda Wang
January 25, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 3


COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has killed over 2 million people around the world. C&EN asked the chemistry community to share memories of colleagues, friends, or loved ones in the field who died of the disease. Here is what they said. If you would like to honor a chemist who died of COVID-19, please visit

Photo of Boini Ambaiah.
Credit: Courtesy of Sridhar Ydhyam
Boini Ambaiah

Boini Ambaiah, 38, group leader, Granules India, died Aug. 18, 2020, in Hyderabad, India

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“Ambaiah was a close friend of mine, and he was one of the finest chemists produced by our chemistry alma [mater].”—Sridhar Ydhyam, friend

Photo of Lillian Bird-Canals.
Credit: Courtesy of Jorge L. Colón
Lillian Bird-Canals

Lillian Bird-Canals, 69, professor of inorganic chemistry, University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras Campus, died Nov. 25, 2020, in San Juan, Puerto Rico

“She was an extraordinary educator and published important papers in the ‘Journal of Chemical Education’ and in ‘Chemical Educator.’ When we both taught general chemistry in a coordinated course, I learned how great she was as a colleague, with a great sense of humor, and she became a good friend. She contributed immensely to the development of chemistry in Puerto Rico. We miss her dearly.”—Jorge L. Colón, colleague

Photo of Lea Blau.
Credit: Courtesy of Zafra Lerman
Lea Blau

Lea Blau, 84, retired chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Stern College for Women, died May 17, 2020, in Queens, New York

“Lea was my best friend and like a sister to me. We always studied together and were never separated through our BSc and MSc at Technion and then PhD at the Weizmann Institute of Science. We came together for postdocs to the US, and then she became a professor in New York and I in Chicago, but we still kept very close. We collaborated on some educational projects. She was very passionate about her students, her friends, and her colleagues. She participated in many American Chemical Society meetings and joined the ACS delegation to Cuba in 2004. She will be sorely missed.”—Zafra Lerman, friend

Photo of Arnold Demain.
Credit: Lynne Delade
Arnold Demain

Arnold Demain, 92, professor emeritus, Drew University, and research fellow, Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti program, died April 3, 2020, in Madison, New Jersey

“Professor Demain had a wicked sense of humor and would constantly crack jokes in our interactions. Despite his immense scientific legacy, he was also incredibly down to earth and happy to chat. He also really loved floppy disks and, despite the advancement of technology, stuck to them, even going so far as getting a USB floppy drive for his laptop.”—Nicholas Chiappini, former advisee

Photo of Alexsandro Fernandes Dos Santos.
Credit: Courtesy of Ramon Guerra de Oliveira
Alexsandro Fernandes Dos Santos

Alexsandro Fernandes Dos Santos, 35, high school chemistry teacher, Escola Estadual Joaquim da Luz, died May 21, 2020, in Nova Cruz, Brazil

“Alexsandro was a great friend of mine. I shared lab dependencies with him almost 4 years during my undergraduate course in pharmacy, and his energy was contagious. It was really a shame that we lost someone to this disease so suddenly. ‘Saudades’ is the word in Portuguese which best describes the feeling now. Rest in peace, my friend.”—Ramon Guerra de Oliveira, friend

Photo of Hans Ruedi Friedli.
Credit: Morgan Pasewicz
Hans Ruedi Friedli

Hans Ruedi Friedli, 89, scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), died Oct. 29, 2020, in Boulder, Colorado

“Dr. Hans Friedli had a 33-year career at Dow Chemical, split between Midland, Michigan, and Freeport, Texas. He worked in product and process R&D and management, achieving the rank of research scientist and earning 43 patents. He had a wide range of technical expertise—polyurethane technology, catalysis, hydrocarbon processing, monomers—and contributed to global R&D strategic development. Upon relocation to Boulder, Colorado, Hans embarked on a 15-year second career at NCAR working in aerosol chemistry, publishing 13 papers, and collaborating internationally. He was a leader and active participant in scientific, environmental, and humanitarian causes in his local communities.”—Andrienne Friedli, daughter

Photo of Daniel S. Kemp.
Credit: Courtesy of Christian Schubert
Daniel S. Kemp

Daniel S. Kemp, 83, professor emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, died May 2, 2020, in Concord, Massachusetts

“Writing papers with him was one of the most important lessons I learned in my scientific career. As a scientist he was not only smart and original but also persistent, with a very positive obsession for details. Apart from science, he was an extremely kind person with a strong sense for the beautiful things in life, such as good cooking and architecture. The natural sciences lost a great chemist, and we all lost a good friend.”—Wolfgang Maison, former graduate student

Photo of Lieng-Huang Lee.
Credit: Courtesy of Grace Lee
Lieng-Huang Lee

Lieng-Huang Lee, 95, senior scientist, Xerox Research Center Webster, died April 29, 2020, in Burlington, Massachusetts

“My father enjoyed chemistry his whole life. He liked to tell the story that in one of his first jobs in Taiwan in the early 1950s, he developed a technique to seed the clouds to make rain in Taiwan by adding silver iodide to coal delivered by locomotive.”—Grace Lee, daughter

Photo of Ying Kao Lee.
Credit: Courtesy of the Lee family
Ying Kao Lee

Ying Kao Lee, 87, chemist, DuPont, died April 13, 2020, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

“Growing up, my dad would quiz us kids on principles of chemistry at the dinner table, asking questions like, ‘Would it take more, less, or the same time for rice to cook at sea level compared to on a mountaintop? And why do you think there should be a difference?’ All of us kids would groan, roll our eyes, and say, ‘Really Dad, can we have a normal conversation?’ He did get his way, though, because although none of his three children ended up as chemists, we all eventually got at least a little of his scientific inquiry bug. My older brother became a geology professor, I became a fertility doctor, and my little sister became a psychological scientist.”—Annette Lee, daughter

Gheorghe D. Mateescu
Credit: Courtesy of John D. Protasiewicz
Gheorghe D. Mateescu

Gheorghe D. Mateescu, 92, emeritus professor of chemistry, Case Western Reserve University, died Jan. 22, 2021, in Lakewood, Ohio

“Gheorghe brought terrific energy and enthusiasm to the Chemistry Department at Case Western Reserve University throughout his distinguished career. His stories of leaving Romania, working with Nobel Prize winner George Olah, or running his latest nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopic experiments always left you with a smile. He cared deeply for all members of the department, especially for students, for whom he generously endowed several awards. Gheorghe's strengths in bringing people together from many countries made him remarkably successful in organizing collaborations, workshops, and promoting NMR spectroscopy. He was also a constant reminder of how immigrants have enriched the US and strengthened our international scientific position.”—John D. Protasiewicz, friend and colleague

Alberto Fajardo Oliveros, dean of research and graduate studies, University of the Amazon, died Aug. 18, 2020, in Florence, Colombia

“Alberto was an incredible man. Always he offered a smile and a joke, just in the right moment. As a chemist he was very enthusiastic about Amazonian natural products. We will always remember Alberto as the best friend for colleagues and students.”—Diana Cristina Sinuco, friend

Photo of Dennis G. Peters.
Credit: Indiana University
Dennis G. Peters

Dennis G. Peters, 82, Herman T. Briscoe Professor of Chemistry, Indiana University Bloomington, died April 13, 2020, in Bloomington, Indiana

“Dr. Peters taught my analytical chemistry course while I was an undergrad, and, unlike most faculty, he made every effort to interact with the students in his course. We went to get coffee and he’d tell me of his time doing research as a student (in the ’50s!), and the excitement he had 50 years later was still palpable. He really contributed to my desire to go to grad school, and he is profoundly missed.”—Jeremiah Gassensmith, former student

Photo of Ronei Jesus Poppi.
Credit: Carlos Diego L. de Albuquerque
Ronei Jesus Poppi

Ronei Jesus Poppi, 55, professor of analytical chemistry, University of Campinas, died April 25, 2020, in São Paulo, Brazil

“Ronei was one of the kindest professors I had in the last couple of years. He always listened to the students and sought to help them the best way he could. He would break down chemometrics with passion, but in a lighthearted and interesting manner, spreading his love for chemistry to everyone who attended his classes.” —Gabriel Zamboni, former student

Photo of William D. Samuels.
Credit: Courtesy of Glen E. Fryxell
William D. Samuels

William D. Samuels, 68, instructor, Grand Canyon University, died Sept. 2, 2020, in Kennewick, Washington

“Starting in 1980, Bill worked for 4 years in the pulp and paper industry as a bleach chemist (at Union Camp and International Paper). In 1984, Bill moved to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in the materials science department, where he rose to the rank of senior research scientist. Bill was a polymer chemist who worked in thin-film optical materials, chemical sensors, scrubber systems, airplane and runway deicers, and biomedical applications. Bill retired from PNNL in December of 2012. After leaving PNNL, he went on to a series of short-term teaching appointments, retiring to eastern Washington in 2017.”—Glen E. Fryxell, friend and colleague

Photo of Dietmar Seyferth.
Credit: MIT
Dietmar Seyferth

Dietmar Seyferth, 91, professor emeritus of chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, died June 6, 2020, in Lexington, Massachusetts

“When I started in my academic career, a much wiser professor told me that, aside from choosing a life partner, choosing a research mentor is the most important decision a scientist can make. I was very fortunate that I chose professor Dietmar Seyferth as my PhD mentor. I kept in touch with him over the years since receiving my PhD. So it was with great shock and sadness that I learned of his passing in June of 2020 from COVID-19. He provided me with not only the research foundation that I needed for a brief career in industry (10 years) but also the organizational, writing, and other communication skills for my career in academia (33 years and counting). I was honored to have been able to write not only about what he meant to me as a research adviser but what he meant to multiple generations of his students.”—Joseph S. Merola, former graduate student

Photo of Vladimir B. Shur.
Credit: Courtesy of Vladimir V. Burlakov
Vladimir B. Shur

Vladimir B. Shur, 83, head of the Laboratory of Metal Complex Activation of Small Molecules, A. N. Nesmeyanov Institute of Organoelement Compounds of Russian Academy of Sciences (INEOS RAS), died June 16, 2020, in Moscow

“Vladimir B. Shur devoted his life to science, having worked at INEOS for almost 60 years. His research interests were related to the fixation of molecular nitrogen, C–H bond activation, acetylene and zwitterionic complexes of group 4 metallocenes, and coordination and catalytic chemistry of anticrowns. He was a unique polymath in various fields and a man who was truly loved and respected.”—Vladimir V. Burlakov, colleague

Robert L. Steffen, 92, chemist, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, died Oct. 18, 2020, in Jasper, Indiana

“Robert (or Bob, as his family called him) was a very quiet and gentle man. He kept to himself but was always ready to share stories of his past with anyone that would listen. Bob loved to walk. He would walk somewhere every day. He preferred to walk than to drive his car. He was a member of Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper and a 56-year member of the American Chemical Society. He was an avid fan of Indiana University football and basketball and the stock market. He was also proud of the fact that he never bought a lottery ticket.”—Rose Terwiske, niece

Photo of William Suits.
Credit: Courtesy of Tomlinson Funeral Home
William Suits

William Suits, 80, career consultant, American Chemical Society, died April 9, 2020, in East Windsor, New Jersey

“Bill was a mentor, guide, and inspiration to many chemists in New Jersey and nationwide. As a career consultant and leader in the ACS North Jersey Section, he took every opportunity to promote and support the chemistry profession. I am so happy to have spent time getting to know him well and to learn from him. Bill will be missed by many at ACS!”—Rick Yglesias, friend and mentee

Photo of Frank Tsung.
Credit: Caitlin Cunningham/Boston College
Frank Tsung

Frank Tsung, 44, associate professor of chemistry, Boston College, died Jan. 5, 2021, in Boston

“Professor Frank Tsung was a rising star in our community, combining nanoscience, chemistry, and materials science to add function to nanomaterials. He would start with controlling nanoscale structure, deep insight, and goals and then would bring together materials to go all the way to function in catalysis and other areas. We were always excited to see and to hear what he was doing and planning. What a terrible loss for our community.”—Paul Weiss, friend and colleague

Photo of Alfred Viola.
Credit: Courtesy of Joy Viola
Alfred Viola

Alfred Viola, 91, professor emeritus of chemistry, Northeastern University, died May 15, 2020, in Wayland, Massachusetts

“He inspired me by demanding that I become the best I could be. He gave me the confidence to go on to get a PhD in organic chemistry. I have had a wonderful life and wonderful career. I am grateful to professor Viola for his kindness and inspiration.”—Ann Beaulieu, former student, mentee, and friend

Photo of Michael C. Williams.
Credit: Courtesy of Elizabeth Hughes
Michael C. Williams

Michael C. Williams, 83, professor emeritus, University of Alberta, died Jan. 2, 2021, in Edmonton, Alberta

“He worked tirelessly to advance theories and ideas, and he even had a cot in his office as a landing place for long nights of work. His love of chemical engineering involved him in many collaborations, papers, and studies with colleagues from around the world. Mike was known for being a meticulous and detailed researcher and had a playful side that led to him authoring a gossipy newsletter at the University of California, Berkeley, that was read by all (but admitted by none).”—Family of Michael C. Williams


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