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Jack Halpern

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Jack Halpern Obituary
Jack Halpern, the Louis Block Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, was a recognized leader in the fields of inorganic and organometallic chemistry and his groundbreaking work in the field of homogeneous catalysis influenced a generation of chemists around the world. Halpern also was devoted to his family and a lover of the arts. He died in Chicago on January 31, 2018 at age 93. A longtime resident of Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, Halpern was born in Poland and moved to Canada at age 4. He earned his B.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees at McGill University in Montreal, then undertook postdoctoral research at the University of Manchester with Professor A.G. Evans. He joined the faculty at the University of British Columbia in 1950, where he quickly achieved recognition for his work in the mechanisms of reactions of dissolved metal species and for his seminal articles on homogeneous activation of dihydrogen by metal ions and for the development with his team of the first homogeneous catalyst for the hydrogenation of olefins. "This pioneering work constitutes a major landmark in the field of catalysis," wrote John E. Bercaw, the Centennial Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology in a special volume of Inorganica Chimica Acta dedicated to Halpern in 1998. "Modern homogeneous catalysis, a field that has many important scientific and technical applications, can be traced to these contributions." In 1962, Halpern moved to the University of Chicago. His continued work on the understanding of homogeneous catalytic reactions established him as a world leader in the field. He also helped establish the subfield of bioinorganic chemistry with his pioneering and influential contributions. He authored or coauthored more than 280 scientific publications. In addition to devoting himself to fundamental studies, Halpern emphasized the importance of the practice of science in the real world. He was a long-term consultant for Monsanto Company and Argonne National Laboratory, and his insights helped shape the advancement of many important areas in the chemical industry. Halpern, who became a US citizen in 1985, was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. He received many honorary degrees and prestigious academic awards from around the world, including the Robert A. Welch Prize in Chemistry, awards for Inorganic Chemistry and Organometallic Chemistry from the American Chemical Society, and the Distinguished Service in Inorganic Chemistry which recognized his long tenure as editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. From 1993 to 2001, Halpern served as Vice President of the US National Academy of Sciences. Over the years, he was a visiting professor at many of the world's leading academic research centers, including Harvard University, CalTech, Cambridge University, Princeton University, the Max-Planck Institute, the University of Copenhagen and Kyoto University. "Jack is certainly a world-class scientist by any definition," wrote Professors Albert Chan and Tamio Hayashi in Tetrahedron: Asymmetry in 2006. "Aside from the tremendous accomplishments in his own research, his devotion to the service of the scientific community and promotion of scientific research and education worldwide is greatly appreciated by his colleagues and peers." Halpern's passion for chemistry was equaled by his passion for the arts. He and his wife Helen, who died in 2011, were important collectors of 20th Century fine art, with a special interest in Expressionism, Cubism and Surrealism. For many years, he served on the Board of Directors of the University of Chicago's Court Theatre and Smart Museum of Art. He and Helen were regular attendees at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera. Halpern is survived by two daughters, Janice and Nina (Mark Ardley); two grandchildren, Jared Henry (Alison) and Claire Henry; one great grandchild, Andrew Henry; a brother, Norman (Clara); and many nieces and nephews. In his later years, he was blessed by the company of many wonderful caregivers, especially Estrellita Paccaro-Fry, who cared for his wife and him for more than 10 years. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Court Theatre or Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago or to .
Published in a Chicago Tribune Media Group Publication on Feb. 4, 2018
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