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Andrew A. Benson


1917 - 2015 Obituary Condolences
Andrew A. Benson Obituary
Andrew Alm Benson passed peacefully on January 16, 2015. A native Californian, he was born in Modesto in 1917; graduated Valedictorian from Modesto High School; and was inducted to its Hall of Fame in 1943. He graduated from University of California, Berkeley in 1939, earning his bachelor's degree; and from California Institute of Technology in 1942, with a doctorate in organic chemistry and neurophysiology.
Dr. Benson is universally recognized as the discoverer of how plants absorb carbon dioxide from air for growth, which is the foundation of the food chain. He pioneered the use of radioactivity to reveal the path of carbon in photosynthesis at a time in the 1940s, when only the eminently prepared and bravest knew how to handle manmade atomic materials. This required the creation of equipment and chemicals that had never been known before. For a time, Dr. Benson held the entire concentrated supply of radioactive carbon dioxide as this was the rarest of all materials. He was at the forefront of developing the first procedures for algae and green plants to safely work with these "atomic cultures." One of the great joys of his life was to have made such extraordinary contributions early in the atomic era.
For fifty years, Dr. Benson was a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences. In 1978, he was made an Honorary Citizen of Alert Bay, British Columbia, where Dr. Benson returned annually for 26 years to collaborate with an international team of research scientists and was a founder of the Alert Bay Marine Society.
Dr. Benson joined the faculty of University of California, San Diego in 1962 and, under his direction, Hubbs Hall was funded and constructed on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus. For the past twenty-five years, Dr. Benson continued to add new discoveries by daily rigorous research on "The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis." He was always generous with his time, effort and enthusiasm as he continued to mentor his students and collaborate internationally with scholars over six decades. All regarded him as a dear friend.
Worldwide, he was lauded by his peers, recognized as, "one of the leading plant biologists of the twentieth century." High honors were many, leading to the recent Andrew A. Benson Award in 2014 for "conferring the greatest good to mankind."
He is survived by Dee Benson, his wife of 45 years; and daughters, Claudia and Linnea from a previous marriage.
Published in La Jolla Light on Jan. 29, 2015
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