Henry Taube, chemist, Died at 89

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Henry Taube died on November 16, 2005 at the age of 89, he was a Canadian-born American chemist noted for having been awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Born November 30, 1915 in Neudorf, Saskatchewan as the youngest of four boys, his parents were German ethnics from Ukraine which had immigrated to Saskatchewan from the Ukraine in 1911.

Growing up, his first language was Low German. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Taube also received many other major scientific awards, including the Priestley Medal in 1985 and two Guggenheim Fellowships early in his career (1949 and 1955), as well as numerous honorary doctorates.

His research focused on redox reactions, transition metals and the use of isotopically labeled compounds to follow reactions.

He had over 600 publications including one book, and had mentored over 200 students during his career. Taube attended the University of Saskatchewan, receiving his B.Sc. in 1935 and his M.Sc in 1937.

His thesis advisor at the University of Saskatchewan was John Spinks. While at the University of Saskatchewan, Taube studied with Gerhard Herzberg, who would be awarded the 1971 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

He moved to University of California, Berkeley, where he completed his Ph.D studies in 1940. His Ph.D mentor was William Bray.

He initially wanted to return to Canada to work, but did not receive a response when he applied for jobs at the major Canadian universities. From Berkeley, he served as an instructor and assistant professor at Cornell University until 1946.

During World War II, Taube served on the National Defense Research Committee. Taube spent time at the University of Chicago as an assistant professor, associate professor and as a full professor from 1946–61.

He served as chair of the chemistry department in Chicago from 1956–59, but did not enjoy administrative work. After leaving Chicago, Taube worked as a professor at Stanford University until 1986, a position that allowed him to focus on research, while also teaching classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Taube’s interest in coordination chemistry was sparked when he was chosen to develop a course on advanced inorganic chemistry while at the University of Chicago.

He was unable to find much information in the textbooks available at the time. Taube realized that his work on the substitution of carbon in organic reactions could be related to inorganic complexes.

In 1952, Taube published a key paper relating the rates of chemical reactions to electronic structure in Chemical Reviews.

This research was the first to recognize the correlation between the rate of ligand substitution and the d-electron configuration of the metal.

Taube’s key discovery was the way molecules build a type of “chemical bridge” rather than simply exchanging electrons, as previously thought.

Identifying this intermediate step explained why reactions between similar metals and ions occurred at different rates. His paper in Chemical Reviews was developed while on sabbatical in the late 1940s.

Taube won the 1983 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for discovering the basic mechanism of chemical reactions that lie behind everything from enzymes to batteries.

He was specifically cited for his work in electron transfer reactions, especially in metal complexes—work that has applications in the chemical industry—but it was also noted that he had made at least 18 major discoveries in his field.