Obituary - Robert Daniel Rosenstein (1922 - 2017)

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Robert Daniel Rosenstein (1922 - 2017)


Art Olson remembers: Robert Rosenstein, career crystallographer and teacher passed away on February 19, 2017, he was 94 years old. Bob got his BS and MS degrees from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and after serving in the U.S. Army during WWII, received his PhD from Cornell University. Bob was a crystallographer’s crystallographer, teaching the science and art of the subject for many years in the Crystallography Department at the University of Pittsburgh.

I first met Bob during his occasional visits to Berkeley in the 1970’s, when I was a graduate student with David Templeton. He was always keen to discuss the latest results in the expanding scope of crystallography during that time. After Bob retired, he moved to San Diego, and we reconnected. Since he wanted to have a “scientific home” he became a visiting scientist in my laboratory from that time until he passed away. Up until his last month, he would still attend my group meetings. He had many interests aside from crystallography, including linguistics. He was in the process of learning Japanese in the last year of his life.

Bob always kept a strong affinity for crystallography, and wanted to aid the study of crystallography into the future. Thus he made a generous bequest to the ACA to support student travel to ACA events – the details of which will be announced once his estate is settled. Bob had an endearing personality and a sharp wit, and will be missed by his friends and colleagues. Below are remembrances of Bob by Helen Berman and Ned Seeman.

Helen Berman remembers: I first met Bob Rosenstein when I was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh in the 60’s. I shared an office with Bryan Craven across the hall from Bob’s office. Bob would come into my office and with no preamble or introduction, launch into a description of some aspect of crystallography that he thought was important for me to know at that moment. It could be about how to determine unit cell dimensions, or how best to analyze a Patterson map or how to do direct methods. He always wrote on the chalk board and was very patient in his descriptions. This happened almost every day. In addition to his teaching skills, Bob was incredibly talented at growing crystals although in this case he never really revealed his methods. He had a little cabinet in his office in which he stashed his experiments and he checked on the samples at random parts of the day. If he got good crystals he would be sure to call me over to look at the results of his labors. He was justifiably proud of his crystallization successes. And I was lucky in that I was often the recipient of some of these crystals whose structures became part of my thesis work.

Bob loved to tell stories often about crystallographers he knew. When I eventually met these individuals, I felt as if I knew them already because of Bob’s sometimes hilarious descriptions. Bob was a kind and generous person with whom I kept in touch for many years after I left Pitt. We eventually did lose touch and so I was surprised when he called me a few years ago to ask how he might help the ACA. I was thus very pleased to learn that in his will, he provided for student travel support to ACA meetings.

Ned Seeman remembers: I first showed up in G.A. Jeffrey’s crystallography laboratory at Pitt in early September, 1967, nearly 50 years ago. Within my first week there, I met Bob. I asked him his name, and he said, “Bob, just Bob.” I started off somewhat befuddled, as most new grad students are, and I took the crystallography course mostly given by Bryan Craven, but with lectures by other faculty, including Bob. He certainly gave the clearest lectures on symmetry elements, and their matrix representations that I ever heard. He also spent an entire class period on how to use Volume I of the International Tables for Crystallography, something that was of immense value to me and my classmates.

Bob was arguably the best teacher I ever encountered. In my era, he had no students himself, but he kibitzed on just about every project that any student was pursuing. He was the one who patiently taught me how to solve structures and how to run all the programs that were necessary to obtain those solutions. In contrast to one of his less effective colleagues, he told us correctly that structures were not solved by least squares. Nothing was too simple or trivial for Bob. I wrote a Patterson Superposition program, and the first thing I had to do was put the data on disk. I just finished doing that when we all went to the Buffalo ACA meeting and he would tell people there that I had just completed doing this very easy task, as though it were a major accomplishment.

I moved on from Pittsburgh to two institutions well up the academic food chain from Pitt. It was a remarkable testament to Bob’s excellence as a teacher that I found myself working with students who were far advanced over me in years of experience, but who knew much less about crystallography than I did. They knew many other things from their courses and from their exposure to superb colleagues and instructors, but they hadn’t been taught how to do crystallography, in the way that I was fortunate to have Bob teach me.

Bob had his own way of thinking about the world, and it was often incompatible with the way American science worked. He was never comfortable writing grants, and he was interested in what he was interested in and not in the goals of the grants funding the laboratory. This attitude resulted in his moving around a lot, and certainly did not generate an easy life, either for him or for some those with whom he interacted. Nevertheless, those who knew him will never forget the brilliance and insightfulness of his mind and his phenomenal skill at imparting his knowledge to students.