Paul Gans, Professor Emeritus in the New York University Department of Chemistry, passed away at age 88 on November 7, 2021. Paul was born on May 1, 1933 in Chicago, and he grew up in New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland. Paul earned his bachelor's degree at Ohio State University and a Ph.D at Case Institute of Technology. He conducted his postdoctoral research at University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign, after which he proudly served on the NYU faculty for 50 years.
Paul Gans worked in the area of statistical mechanics, which seeks to derive thermodynamic properties of a system directly from its molecular constituents and their interactions. His particular focus was on a class of models, known as self-avoiding random walks, often used to describe linear polymers such as hydrocarbons, peptides, and nucleic acids. Understanding the characteristics of self-avoiding random walks is a problem that continues to challenge mathematicians, physicists, and chemists, alike. Prof. Gans contributed some of the earliest investigations of the physical and mathematical properties of these systems, laying key foundations in work that is still cited today.
As a teacher, Prof. Gans had a unique ability to connect with students and make complex topics both understandable and relevant to them. As a result, he was an immensely popular and effective instructor in courses, such as physical and advanced general chemistry, which students typically find both challenging and intimidating. In recognition of his talent, skill and dedication as an educator, Paul won the Golden Dozen Teaching Excellence Award no less than three times!
During the funeral service held for Paul on November 12th, several of his colleagues noted that his family was very important to him, and that even the most casual conversation led to mention of them, such that they were known not only from their occasional appearances at department functions but as figures of legend. Our hearts go out to Paul's wife Gail, his daughters Susan and Abby and their families. Some personal notes from members of the NYU Department of Chemistry follow.
From Mark Tuckerman, Chair - Note to members of NYU Chemistry
I am sad to have to report that Prof. Paul Gans passed away last night after several years' struggle with his health. Prof. Gans was a faculty member in our department for over 50 years and had retired in 2012 when he was given Emeritus status. Those of us who knew Paul remember not only his contributions to theoretical chemistry, in particular, statistical mechanics, but also his warmth and kindness and his broadly ranging academic interests. He was a popular undergraduate and graduate instructor who also had a strong interest in and passion for medieval history, especially the history of medieval technology. Up until just a few years ago, he attended a number of our departmental functions, so some of you who hadn't known him when he was an active member of the department might have had the opportunity meet Paul on those occasions. On a personal note, I will remember Paul as one of the most welcoming presences when I first arrived at NYU in 1997 and as someone to whom I often turned for advice in navigating academic life in the department and with whom I talked nearly every day about science and numerous other topics. I will always remember his mentorship and his generosity during the early years of my career.
From Jim Canary
Professor Gans was a beloved member of our faculty. He was very engaged in all of our activities, providing insightful and constructive input wherever possible. He was a delight to encounter as we went about our scholarly activities, making encouraging and humorous comments that always brightened my day. He would volunteer to take on onerous tasks to help the department leadership without expecting anything in return. He had a real sense of the traditional academy and a positive approach even to difficult issues. I won’t forget him!
From David Schuster
I am very saddened to hear about the passing of Paul Gans, whom I have known since he joined the NYU faculty along with Jules Moskowitz in 1964. Paul was a distinguished colleague and made many important contributions to our department over the years. He was thoroughly committed to his teaching of undergraduate Freshman Chemistry and Physical Chemistry and was very respected and admired by his hundreds if not thousands of students over the years. The same is true of the response of his graduate students to his course in Statistical Mechanics. While our respective fields could not have been more diverse, the mutual respect we felt over all these years was profound. I shall miss him dearly.
From John Halpin
I've known Paul since I arrived in the department as an undergraduate in the early 1980's. Though I never had him as a teacher, I did TA for him, and I learned a great deal about physical chemistry, in particular thermodynamics, from Paul. I also know that he was a fabulous teacher, and have tried to emulate his enthusiastic and caring teaching style. I will truly miss him.
From Alexej Jerschow
Paul was such a wonderful presence. When I arrived here, I sat in some of his lectures which I truly enjoyed, and it was clear the students did, too. He was also always very supportive of young faculty. He will be missed dearly.
From Julie Kaplan
Paul Gans was a joy. He was a welcome addition to any social gathering, so he was a special favorite of mine, as it is my personal and professional goal to increase joy, whether at departmental events or by the proverbial water cooler. I called him my best recruitment tool. I will miss Paul's company, his warmth, his stories about Kalamazoo (we like to say that word, and who doesn't?) and his family (he loved them so) and his students (they never ceased to amaze him) and history (especially medieval technology) and science (no disrespect to the theoreticians, but all kinds). I have already missed seeing his smile for a few years now, but the truth is that I can picture it readily and always will.
From Carol Hollingsworth
I will always remember the kindness Paul Gans showed me when I started my job in the Chemistry Department. He was warm and friendly and very welcoming. I was disappointed to learn that he was retiring at the end of that semester so we didn't overlap very long. However, Paul attended many chemistry events so I did have the opportunity to see him from time to time. A wonderful person, he will be missed by many.