Obituary - Leroy E. Alexander (1910 - 2004)

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Leroy E. Alexander (1910 - 2004)



In June L.E. Alexander passed away in his 94th year. Leroy retired in 1976 from the Mellon Institute of Carnegie- Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as Professor of Chemistry, and Senior Fellow. To obtain his academic education he had a difficult road to follow. After high school he obtained his teacher’s certificate and was teaching in one-room rural schools by the age of eighteen. By alternating teaching and college studies he was able to earn a bachelor’s degree at the State Teacher’s College in River Falls, Wisconsin, in 1937. During his teaching years he organized a school band and taught the students how to play all the instruments. He supported himself during graduate study by playing clarinet and saxophone in dance bands, and was awarded a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1943. After working at the General Electric Laboratories in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Leroy was offered a position in the Department of Chemical Physics at the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research in Pittsburgh. He headed up the x-ray diffraction section and became an authority in this field. Together with Harold P. Klug he wrote the classic “X-ray Diffraction Procedures” (Wiley,1954). This book can still be found in many x-ray diffraction laboratories around the world, because it is written in a clear and instructive way. With Gordon S. Smith he published a number of influential papers on the geometry of single-crystal x-ray diffractometry. His second book “X-ray Diffraction Methods in Polymer Science” (Wiley, 1969) was also a success, and for quite some years was the only book on this subject. He was ACA secretary 1958 to 1960.

In the early sixties Leroy was on sabbatical at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, where he worked with his long time friend the late Peter de Wolff. While at Delft he collected material for his book on diffraction methods in polymer science. Those fifteen months in the Netherlands were a wonderful time for the Alexanders. While he was working on his second book, Leroy started a project to study chain folding in polymers, in particular of polyamides. This subject was a source of controversy and played an important role in the phenomenological description of the deformation of polymers. The study resulted in a series of papers on the structural determination of nylon cyclic oligomers. Together with Roger Pettersen and Earl Baker he worked on the synthesis and the structures of chlorophyll-related compounds.

With his great knowledge of x-ray diffraction and talent for writing well-styled and clearly formulated texts, he was a source of inspiration for all those who had the privilege to work with him. Leroy was a great friend and colleague to many people from different countries and backgrounds. He had a broad range of interests; playing music was one of his great pleasures. He was an optimistic and religious man, respected as well as admired by those who knew him. In his work he was strongly supported by his beloved wife Eleanor, who for many years transcribed books into braille. She died several years ago and Leroy is survived by his daughters Kathryn and Karen, and two grandchildren.

- Maurits Northolt