Obituary - William R. Busing (1923 - 2016)

Memoir | Publications | Curriculum Vitae | Awards | Videos | Slides | Articles | Obituary


William (Bill) Busing (1923 - 2016)

ACA RefleXions, Summer 2016


A few weeks ago we were saddened to hear that we have lost yet another of our ‘founding fathers’ when Bill Busing passed away on April 14, 2016. Fortunately for us Bill contributed his living history which was published in RefleXions (summer, 2011) and has been archived on the ACA History Portal. What follows here are a few personal memories and notes.

Carol Brock:

I first met Bill Busing at the Spring 1972 ACA meeting in Albuquerque a few months before defending my thesis and starting as an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky. Bill was legendary for having co-authored the widely used ORFLS and ORFFE programs but he turned out to be friendly and approachable. I had also used Bill’s innovative program WMIN for doing energy calculations of molecules in crystals. While enjoying the opening reception in Albuquerque he and a few others of us wondered whether such calculations would eventually make possible reliable predictions of molecular crystal structures.

Bill was very helpful during my first years in Lexington. He invited me to give a seminar at Oak Ridge and arranged for me and a student to collect data on the ORNL diffractometer. He introduced me to his colleagues Henri Levy and Carroll Johnson, who were also legends, and he took me home for a home-cooked dinner. He was easygoing and kind.

The code in the Oak Ridge programs was lovely – efficient, logical, highly commented, and remarkably bug free. Later on I would use the printed code to learn how to do such things as calculate a cross product in a triclinic coordinate system. The code was much easier to follow than any textbook.

When my student Yigang Fu was finishing his PhD degree in 1991 he decided to take a postdoctoral position with Bill and Bernhard Wunderlich at the University of Tennessee. The plan was to measure two-dimensional x-ray diffraction patterns from partially crystalline polymer fibers and to then do a 2-D full-pattern refinement analogous to the 1-D refinements pioneered by Hugo Rietveld. A well-cited paper [(Y. Fu, W.R. Busing, Y. Jin, K.A. Affholter & B. Wunderlich (1994). Macromol. Chem. Phys.)] was published but the problem proved more difficult than anticipated because of the discovery of an intermediate mesophase.

In 1991 Bill officially retired from ORNL but remained active. At the April 1991 ACA meeting in Toledo Ray Young and I organized a session titled Structure of Polymers at the Molecular Level to honor Bill.

A few years ago Bill sent me email greetings from Oak Ridge. He had moved to a retirement home after his wife Judy had passed on but he was still driving and regularly saw a daughter who lived nearby. Several messages went back and forth and I was happy
to be able to tell him that the blind tests run by the CCDC on prediction of structures of organic molecules had shown the power of lattice- energy calculations but had also revealed the problem to be more difficult than anyone had suspected. And I was able to thank him for his support during a time that it had really mattered.

Bill once told me that he had started at ORNL with little back- ground in crystallography; as a graduate student at Princeton he had done an electrochemistry project under the direction of Walter Kauzmann. That switch in fields was an early indication of Bill’s versatility. He had an orderly and inventive mind, a strong work ethic, and a wonderful way of interacting with people of all kinds. He was modest and had absolute integrity. He was a model as both a scientist and as a person.

Judy Flippen-Anderson:

For the ACA meeting in St. Paul in 2000 Connie (Chidester) Rajnak and I put together an article full of vignettes from previous ACA Presidents. Bill sent us the following photo and letter:


Dear Judy and Connie: I have been looking for photos that you might be able to use, but the only one I can find that has Henri Levy and myself in it was taken at a party in the 1950’s. We look pretty young.

Judy Flippen-Anderson cont'd:

For the ACA meeting in St. Paul in 2000 Connie (Chidester) Rajnak and I put together an article full of vignettes from previous ACA Presidents. Bill sent us the following letter:

Dear Judy and Connie: I have been looking for photos that you might be able to use. I do remember my first ACA meeting at French Lick, IN, in 1956. At that meeting Joan Clark reported on what I believe was the first crystal structure determined entirely by direct methods. (I think the authors were Clark and Crist and perhaps Howard Evans). Someone, probably Ray Pepinsky, asked what the Patterson map looked like, and when Joan said they hadn’t made a Patterson, there was a general gasp of surprise.

As President I remember the 1971 meeting in Charleston, SC. One of the presidential duties that I did not particularly like was being responsible for the protocol at the banquet. Fortunately I had Julie Roth, Secretary Walter Roth’s wife, to advise me about seating at the head table. Martin Buerger was there to receive the first Fankuchen Award and Dina Fankuchen was there also. I remember having to intervene when an overly conscientious waiter tried to extract a banquet ticket from the university Vice Presi- dent. Ben Post gave the banquet address. His topic seemed to be that, while everybody else was interested in information retrieval, he was more interested in information disposal. Imagine what he would have thought about the internet and junk mail!

That’s about all I have for now. At this point I’m not sure of how many days I will be in St. Paul, but I will try to be there for the banquet. I’m looking forward to it! Best regards, Bill

Judy continues:

Bill did show up in St Paul and was part of the ACA at 50 celebration on the riverboat cruise (see photo below - back row: Penny Codding, Connie Chidester Rajnak, Jenny Glusker, Charlie Bugg, Helen Berman, Jon Clardy, Judy Flippen- Anderson, Bill Busing, Bill Duax, Carroll Johnson, Bryan Craven. Front row: Elizabeth Wood, David Templeton, Robinson Burbank, Sidney Abraham, Abe Clearfield) . Carol’s recollections of Bill are very similar to mine. However, we were not collaborators but conspirators. It started a long time ago when I was sitting next to him during a talk during which we were told that we (the younger generation) should mix and mingle with the more senior crystallographers – that they would love to talk to us. I scoffed at this remark saying that the ‘pooh bahs’ had no interest in meeting us. Bill took up the challenge and made it his personal pilgrimage to introduce me to as many luminaries as he could find at the meeting – and he was right! From that time forward, at each ACA meeting, Bill and I would single out some unsuspecting young crystallographer and introduce him/her to as many bigwigs as we could find. This usually took place during the cocktail hour before the banquet (back in the days when we had an ‘open’ bar) and then we would sit together and at the banquet and ‘critique’ the after dinner speaker. It was great fun and provided me with some of my best memories of what it meant to part of the ACA family. When I was elected vice-president Bill sent me a hand-written note of congratulations. He was as outstanding as a person as he was as a scientist. He will be missed.