Eyring, Henry, 1901-1981

Alternative names
Birth 1901-02-20
Death 1981-12-26

Biographical notes:

Professor of chemistry, Brigham Young University.

From the description of Henry Eyring oral history interview : Tape and transcript, 1980 June 19 [sound recording] / conducted by Leonard R. Grover. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122461117

Professor of chemistry, University of Utah.

From the description of Speeches, 1973-1976. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122461137

From the guide to the Henry Eyring speeches, 1973-1976, (L. Tom Perry Special Collections)

Theoretical chemist, researcher, dean of University of Utah graduate school.

From the description of Papers. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 154299769

Henry Eyring (1901-1981) was a leading theoretical chemist for five decades. He was born on February 20, 1901, to a Mormon family in Mexico. During the Mexican Revolution in 1912 the Mormons were expelled from Mexico, and Eyring's family settled in southeastern Arizona. Eyring attended the University of Arizona, receiving his B.S. and M.S. degrees in mining and metallurgical engineering in 1923 and 1924 respectively. In 1927 he received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley, where he produced his thesis on a topic in radiochemistry under the direction of G. E. Gibson.

Eyring went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1927 as a research associate to Farrington Daniels, who directed Eyring's attention to chemical kinetics. At the same time, Eyring gained an appreciation of the possibilities of quantum mechanics for chemistry while auditing a course given by physicist John H. Van Vleck.

While in Madison, Eyring met Mildred Bennion, who was on leave from the University of Utah where she was chairman of the women's physical education program. Henry and Mildred married in 1928 and had three sons: Edward Marcus, Henry Bennion, and Harden Romney.

A National Research Fellowship in 1929 led Eyring to post-graduate work in Berlin, where he was involved in pioneering research on potential energy surfaces with Michael Polanyi. They collaborated on the first successful quantum mechanical calculations for simple gas reactions in 1931. After teaching one year at Berkeley, Eyring joined Hugh Taylor's department at Princeton in 1931 and began fifteen illustrious years of research.

At Princeton, Eyring established himself as a major force in theoretical chemistry, making significant and original contributions to quantum chemistry, chemical kinetics, liquid theory, the theory of optical activity, the nature of natural and synthetic fibers, and the physical understanding of biological processes. In 1946 he surprised the scientific community by accepting a position as dean of the new graduate school at the University of Utah. At Utah, Eyring became the single most important person in developing a first-rate graduate program and research institution. In 1966, he retired as dean and was named Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Metallurgy, a position he held until his death in 1981.

An active and prominent member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Eyring served in a number of positions of leadership. While at Princeton he functioned as the president of the New Brunswick, New Jersey Branch (1932-1942), and later was called as the president of the New Jersey District of the church (1945-1946). Upon arriving in Utah Eyring was called as a member of the Deseret Sunday School General Board (1946-1971) and became a popular speaker at religious gatherings.

After a long cancer-related illness, Mildred B. Eyring died in 1969. In 1971 Eyring married Winnifred Brennan Clark.

Eyring received numerous awards in recognition of his outstanding contributions to nearly every phase of physical chemistry. He published over six hundred scientific papers spanning a wide spectrum of subjects, from physics and quantum chemistry to molecular biology and medicine; he wrote ten books with colleagues, two of which, ( The Theory of Rate Processes [1941], with Keith Laidler and Samuel Glasstone, and Quantum Chemistry [1944], with George E. Kimball and John Walter), were extremely influential texts. During his career, Eyring trained over 120 Ph.D.'s; taught advanced chemistry courses for twenty-five years without a sabbatical; and lectured around the country seventy-five days per year. Eyring also served as president of both the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science; guided a graduate school and major research projects; consulted for many companies; served on public and private scientific boards; and gave hundreds of talks on science and religion.

From the guide to the Henry Eyring papers, 1919-2010, (J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah)


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