Kurt Mislow, Pioneer in Stereochemistry Dies at 94. Click here to read the Princeton obituary.
Professor Emeritus David Schuster remembers the man who began his professional career on the faculty of the NYU Department of Chemistry:
Kurt Mislow, an iconic physical organic chemist and the world’s foremost authority
in the field of stereochemistry, recently died at his home in Princeton, New Jersey. Kurt served
on the faculty of the NYU Chemistry Department at the University Heights campus in The Bronx
from 1949 until 1964, when he joined the Department of Chemistry at Princeton. He was born
in Berlin, Germany, in 1923, and his family was finally able to escape the Nazis and immigrate to the United States from London in 1940 just as bombing started with the help of his uncle, renowned photographer Alfred Eisenstadt. The Mislows settled in New York City. Kurt earned his bachelor’s degree from Tulane in 1944 and his doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in 1947 where he did theoretical and experimental Ph. D. research with the eminent Linus Pauling. During his years at NYU Kurt was known for the intellectually rigorous manner in which he taught courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and mentored graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in his group. He could be very tough on graduate students at seminars, insisting that they have a command of their subject at the most basic level, and he could be critical of visiting speakers by asking probing questions that got to the heart of the subject at hand. He built a research program covering fundamental areas of organic stereochemistry in which he made many important contributions, some in collaboration with eminent organic and physical chemists of the day. His famous small book “Introduction to Stereochemistry” published by W. A. Benjamin in 1965, was based upon notes he prepared for his advanced organic chemistry courses at NYU, and is as useful and pertinent now as it was 50 years ago! He led the way in showing how stereochemical concepts were fundamental to many scientific disciplines in addition to organic chemistry. In his retirement years at Princeton, his work became increasingly abstruse and mathematical, getting to the heart of molecular structure. When one of Kurt’s most promising NYU doctoral students, Michael Glass became seriously ill with cancer just as he was finishing his graduate research, Kurt wrote Mike’s Ph. D. thesis so that his degree could be awarded posthumously. Kurt was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1972, and was the recipient of many awards from the American Chemical Society, including the James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry (1975), the William H. Nichols Award (1987) and the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award (1995), as well as the recipient of several honorary degrees. Mislow had an imposing physical presence, but it was the keenness of his intellect and his uncompromising integrity that earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues and students at both NYU and Princeton.