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Princeton Weekly Bulletin   September 18, 2006, Vol. 96, No. 2   prev   next   current

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Edward Stiefel, chemist who bridged domains, dies

Princeton NJ — Edward Stiefel, a gifted Princeton chemist who bridged the fields of industry and academia, died Sept. 4 in New Brunswick, N.J., from pancreatic cancer. He was 64.

Stiefel, the Ralph W. Dornte Lecturer with the rank of professor, joined the chemistry faculty in 2001 after retiring from ExxonMobil.

Edward Stiefel

Edward Stiefel

“Ed was a wonderful colleague, a generous and compassionate friend, and an inspiring mentor,” said John Groves, the Hugh Stott Taylor Chair of Chemistry at Princeton, who first met Stiefel when they were graduate students at Columbia University.

A graduate of New York University, Stiefel earned his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1967. He taught for seven years at the State University of New York-Stony Brook, then served as an investigator and senior investigator at the Charles F. Kettering Research Laboratory.

In 1980, he joined Exxon as a research associate. Over the next 21 years, he became a senior research associate, scientific adviser and senior scientific adviser. He was a scientific architect of the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989, applying the principles of bioinorganic chemistry and microbiology to this large-scale environmental remediation project. He also was the inventor of the commercially important “thiomolybdate” additive for lubricating oils.

Stiefel held 30 U.S. patents and published more than 150 scientific articles. His review article on “The Coordination and Bioinorganic Chemistry of Molybdenum” has been cited in more than 800 publications. He was co-editor with Harry Gray, Joan Valentine and Ivano Bertini of the recently published book “Biological Inorganic Chemistry.”

Stiefel was a member of the board of reviewing editors of Science magazine, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a winner of the American Chemical Society Award in Inorganic Chemistry in 2000. He was founding co-chair of the Molybdenum and Tungsten Enzymes Gordon Conference (with Russ Hille) in 1999 and of the Inaugural Gordon Research Conference on Environmental Bioinorganic Chemistry (with François Morel) in 2002.

At Princeton, Stiefel was affiliated with the Princeton Environmental Institute in addition to the chemistry department. His research interests included the bioinorganic, coordination and environmental chemistry of transition metal ions. He was a key principal investigator (with Charles Dismukes) in Princeton’s bio-solar hydrogen program.

Also a talented teacher, Stiefel worked with Groves to develop a new class called “Metals in Biology” that became one of the most popular graduate courses in the department. In addition, Stiefel taught a freshman seminar on “Elements of Life.” “Ed’s genius lay in his uncanny ability to ‘see’ complex chemical issues over a wide range of scale, from global to the molecular,” Groves said.

Another colleague, Michael Hecht, remembers the many wide-ranging conversations in the hallway with Stiefel, who had the office next door. “He had the sort of enthusiasm and exuberance that made you almost feel like he was going to leave the ground,” said Hecht, a professor of chemistry.

“One of us would think about something that was a little bit off-topic, but related,” he said. “Those digressions were sort of parentheses within a topic, but then we’d come on something else — there would be parentheses within parentheses. But you never closed the parenthesis because you were always planning to get back. When I walk by his door, I feel like there are dangling conversations still left in the air and many parentheses that are open but never closed. That was the kind of person he was. There were always many things going on, one inside of the other. He was full of knowledge and thought and interest and concern about a million different topics.”

Survivors include his wife, Jeannette, of Bridgewater; and daughter Karen Hoerhold, her husband, Udo, and their two sons, of New Hampshire. Funeral services were held on Sept. 6.



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