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In Memoriam

With the death of Professor Emeritus Gomberg on February 12, 1947, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts lost a brilliant scientist who had won recognition as one of the world's leading authorities on organic chemistry. In the long years of his devoted labors as teacher and scholar he contributed greatly to the reputation of the University not only by important discoveries in the field of his specialty but also by his stimulating influence in the development of other branches of original research. He inspired his pupils by his methods and ideals, and impressed his colleagues by the vigor and clarity of his mind. To his greatness there was added an innate kindliness and unassuming modesty that endeared him to us all.

He was born February 8, 1866, in Elizabetgrad, Russia, the son of George and Marie Resnikoff Gomberg. From 1873 to 1884 he was a student in the Nicolcau Gymnasium of his native town. In the latter year his father was forced to flee with his family as a result of anti-Czarist activities and his estate was confiscated. They came to Chicago, where for a time hardship became their lot. The son, however, with indomitable energy earned the moans to enter the University of Michigan, from which he was graduated in 1690 with the degree of Bachelor of Science. An assistantship enabled him. to continue in graduate work, and two years later he received the degree of Master of Science. He took his doctorate in science in 1894 with a thesis on the reactions of caffeine. From 1893 to 1899 he served as Instructor in Chemistry, with an interval of two years (1896-1897) spent in study at Munich in the Baoyer Laboratory and at Heidelberg under Victor Meyer. In 1890 he was promoted to Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry, in 1902 to Junior Professor, and from 1904 until 1936, when he retired, he hold the rank of Professor of Chemistry, with the chairmanship of his department from 1927.

Throughout his years of active service ho was a constant contributor to chemical journals and became celebrated for his fundamental research. Of far-reaching importance was his discovery of trivalent carbon and his work on the triphenylmothane series. He was further credited with the development of the first satisfactory anti-freeze compound for radiators and with the finding of now solvents for automobile lacquers. From these industrial benefits ho could easily have amassed wealth, had he ever given a thought to financial rewards. It was characteristic of him to consider these as nothing in comparison with the fascination and satisfaction of finding now ways where none had been. During his service in the first World War, in which he hold the rank of Major, he was the first in this country to discover the secret of preparing the basic materials of mustard gas. In this, however, he took no pride and never spoke of it later, for it was a task abhorrent to his nature.

He was a member of many learned societies and an officer in net a few of them. Among these may be mentioned: the American Chemical Society, of which he was president in 1931; the American Philosophical Society; the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of which he was elected vice-president in 1935; the Franklin Institute; the National Academy of Sciences, of which he was a life member; the American Institute of Chemists; and the Netherlands Chemical Society, of which he was an honorary member. His achievements were recognized by the award of outstanding honors: he was the recipient of the Nichols Medal of the American Chemical Society in 1914; of the Willard Gibbs Medal in 1925, and of the Chandler Medal in 1927. He would have been less than human had he not been pleased with these marks of distinction, but none of them ever changed the even tenor of his way. Academic honors, too, were his: his colleagues here unanimously chose him as the first Russell Lecturer for the year 1925-1926; the University of Chicago conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Science in 1920; from the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute he received the same degree in 1932, and Michigan made him a Doctor of Laws in 1937.

These and other evidences of his attainments he received with the modesty that was one of his characteristic traits. He never sought preferment, and all forms of academic advertising were alien to his. soul. He had strong convictions in matters of learning and research and was not averse to expressing them, but he never spoke with harshness or with the intent to hurt. He was a great scientist, a wise counselor, and a loyal friend, whose memory will long remain a living force in the institution he so notably served.

LSA Minutes

  1. J.G. Winter

  2. J.O. Halford

H. H. Willard

Moses Gomberg