October 5, 2007

U of C honors influential scientists

The University of Chicago is honoring two influential scientists who died last spring with a series of memorial symposiums and services this week.

Ole Kleppa, a professor emeritus in chemistry and the geophysical sciences and a major contributor to the study of minerals, ceramics, and metals at high temperatures, died May 27 from intestinal complications at the age of 87.

Joseph V. Smith, the Louis Block Professor Emeritus in the geophysical sciences whose work on the “hot moon” theory changed the understanding of the origins of the universe, died of pneumonia on April 6 after battling Parkinson’s disease for five years. He was 78.

A symposium entitled “The Future of Calorimetry” was held in honor of Kleppa Wednesday, and a memorial service, as well as a reception, followed at Bond Chapel.

Smith will be honored Saturday with a series of scientific presentations and remembrances at Hinds Laboratory building.

Kleppa, who was born in Norway in 1920, was only 20 years old when, as a student government leader at the Norwegian Technical University and a proponent of Norwegian nationalism, he fled the Gestapo and escaped to England. He later served in an exiled Norwegian military unit and trained U.S. troops to fight in cold-weather conditions.

Kleppa’s work as a chemist at the U of C led to a number of discoveries that have affected areas as diverse as the nuclear reactor industry, the aviation industry, and the development of so-called “super batteries.” He is best known for the development of the Kleppa calorimeter, which helps determine how much energy is required for new materials to form.

Smith, a mineralogist, was born in 1928 in Derbyshire, England. His interests ranged from the geology of the moon to the volcanoes of East Africa, as well as the environmental impact of asteroids and other cosmic hazards. His multi-faceted work culminated in the study of feldspar minerals, found on both the moon and on Earth.

A leading authority on feldspar, Smith’s work on lunar asteroid impacts and their role in melting its crust challenged earlier, “cooler” theories of lunar development and led to discoveries concerning the same processes on Earth. Smith determined that feldspar, which is lighter than other volcanic minerals like basalt, could have only come to exist on the surface of the moon due to catastrophic collisions.