UW News

August 14, 2014

Seymour Rabinovitch leaves a long UW legacy in chemistry

News and Information

Benton Seymour Rabinovitch, 95, a professor emeritus of chemistry, died Aug. 2. His family has suggested that donations in his memory may be made to the UW Chemistry Department, where his family created an endowed chair.

B. Seymour Rabinovitch

B. Seymour Rabinovitch

He also created five other endowments in chemistry, including a fund for staff professional development in chemistry, an outstanding faculty award, a common room to foster collaboration and collegiality and a graduate fellowship.

In 1948 he joined the UW, where he spent four decades conducting research in physical chemistry. Rabinovitch – often called “Rab” by colleagues, friends and students – conducted experiments that were instrumental in deciphering processes that occur when molecules collide and rearrange, events that happen in a trillionth of a second. His contributions to molecular dynamics have become standard material in physical chemistry textbooks.

A memorial scientific symposium on campus is being planned.

Rabinovitch was born in Montreal in 1919, and by the age of 23 he had earned bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from McGill University in Quebec. In 1942 he joined the Canadian Army and led a team of scientists in Europe studying German munitions factories and battlefields in search of violations of the Geneva Conventions.

Following the war he was a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University.

He served as an editor for the Journal of the American Chemical Society and chaired the society’s Division of Physical Chemistry. He mentored numerous students, and 41 of them earned doctoral degrees under his guidance.

His honors include being named a fellow of the Royal Society and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

After retiring in 1986, he took up silversmithing, became a collector of antique silver slices and servers and explored their chemistry. He published three authoritative volumes on the subject, and his collection of contemporary silver servers is on permanent exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Survivors include four children, all UW graduates. His son Peter Rabinovitch is a UW professor of pathology.