Princeton Weekly Bulletin, April 6, 1998

John Turkevich

Turkevich (r) with Nikita Khrushchev in 1959

John Turkevich, 91, Eugene Higgins Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, died on March 25.

A pioneer in catalytic research, Turkevich in 1935 developed a commercially useful cyclization method for preparing toluene from heptane. Later he applied magnetic resonance and electron microscopy techniques to chemical research. Turkevich was also an expert on Soviet science. After transferring to emeritus status in 1975, he concentrated on catalysis with applications to both energy and medicine, including cancer therapy using cis-platinum compounds.

Turkevich earned his bachelor's degree at Dartmouth College in 1928 and taught there for three years. He received master's degrees from Dartmouth (1930) and from Princeton (1932), where he earned his PhD in 1934 and joined the faculty in 1936 after a year doing research at Cambridge University and at the University of Leipzig. He was named full professor in 1952 at the age of 45 and appointed to the Higgins chair in 1955.

Especially known for the basic chemistry course he taught for nearly 50 years, Turkevich taught chemistry at all levels. Frequently voted "most popular lecturer" by students, he was national Phi Beta Kappa Lecturer and received the 1957 National Award of the Chemists Manufacturing Association for excellence in teaching. An ordained priest, he also served as Orthodox chaplain at Princeton for 24 years.

During World War II Turkevich worked on the Manhattan Project, and he later served as consultant to the Atomic Energy Commission and to both Brookhaven and Los Alamos national labs. In 1955 and 1958 he was adviser to the U.S. Delegation to the Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva.

Eldest child of Metropolitan Leonty, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States, Turkevich was fluent in Russian. He frequently served on diplomatic missions to the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 60s and was the first science attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in 1960 and 1961. In 1965 he was chair of the first Official Delegation of University Professors to the Soviet Union, which established scientific exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1970 he was a representative on the delegation of the Orthodox Church of America that received the Autocephaly Edict from the Patriarch.

Turkevich lectured at the Army War College, the Air University and the Imperial Defence College (London). He was a visiting professor at Tokyo University and the University of Lausanne, and in 1980 he delivered a series of lectures in China. Among his honorary degrees was a DSci from Dartmouth, his alma mater. He served as president of the National Institute for Catalysis and was active in the American Chemical Society and the Electron Microscope Society. In 1996 he was honored as a founding member of the International Catalysis Society. He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Century Association of New York City and a board member of the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton.

From 1947 to 1952, Turkevich and his wife Ludmilla Buketoff Turkevich edited the monthly "Guide to Russian Scientific Literature." Among his publications are Chemistry in the Soviet Union (1965), Soviet Men of Science (1963) and Russian for the Scientist (1959). He also published articles in Atlantic Monthly, Saturday Review and Foreign Affairs.

Turkevich is survived by his daughters, Marina (whose husband, Robert Naumann, is professor of chemistry and physics, emeritus) and Tamara (whose husband, Daniel Skvir, is Princeton's current Orthodox chaplain), and four grandchildren. His wife of 61 years died in 1995.