Obituary - Sidney C. Abrahams                                

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Sidney C. Abrahams (1924 - 2021)

ACA RefleXions, Spring 2021



Sidney C. Abrahams, most recently Adjunct Professor of Physics at the Southern Oregon University, lived a long and fruitful life, filled with many “firsts.” Born in 1924, he passed away on February 9, 2021, at the age of 96. He was an active participant during an exciting time in the growth and development of crystallography. He earned a BSc in chemistry at the University of Glasgow and, because he was interested in x-ray crystallography, he stayed there for his graduate studies. Working under the supervision of J. Monteath Robertson, Gardiner Professor of Chemistry, was a “no-brainer,” according to Sidney, since Robertson was a pioneer of x-ray crystallography.

After earning his PhD, Sidney took a position as research fellow with Bill Lipscomb at Minnesota where he worked on developing an apparatus to allow a liquid to be cooled to form a single crystal so precession data could be collected. He moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Insulation Research (LIR) where he held a staff position for four years. There he studied the physical properties of condensed matter and how these properties relate to structure. He also indulged his interest in instrumental improvements, adapting commercial powder diffractometers for use below liquid nitrogen temperatures. A research fellowship drew him back to the University of Glasgow where he completed several structural investigations over three years and was awarded a DSc.

Sidney then moved to AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ, where he spent a long and distinguished career (1957 – 1988), being awarded the honor Distinguished Member of Technical Staff in 1982. His research spanned areas including ferroelectrics, piezoelectrics and pyrolectrics, and second-harmonic generation of chiral crystals as well as his applications of normal-probability analysis techniques to crystallography. He also continued to work with instrument improvements; indeed, together with Ted Prince and others, Sidney was responsible for the first automated single crystal neutron instrument at the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor. He was also a coauthor of the very first single-crystal neutron study of a transition-metal hydride complex (K2ReH9).

In 1949, Sidney was one of those who enthusiastically voted to merge the Crystallographic Society of America and the American Society for X-ray and Electron Diffraction to form the American Crystallographic Association (ACA) and became a charter member of the ACA. He served this organization in many ways, including as President (1968) and as Founding Editor of the Transactions. He was a member of the US National Committee for Crystallography from 1966-1980 and its chairman from 1970-1972. Among his activities with the IUCr, Sidney served as Editor-in-Chief of Acta Crystallographica, chaired the IUCr Commission on Journal from 1978-1987, and served on the Union’s Finance Committee from 1981-1987.

Over his illustrious career, Sidney received a number of honors including honorary doctorates from the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and the University of Bordeaux, France, and the Humboldt Prize from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, and IUPAC.

- Kay Onan