Remembering Professor Emeritus Robert L. Scott

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We are sad to report that Emeritus Professor Robert L. Scott passed away on May 1, 2016 at age 94.  

By Prof. Charles Knobler – 

A distinguished physical chemist, Bob joined the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1948. A native Californian, Bob made the trek to the east coast to attend Harvard, where he majored in Chemistry. He then began graduate study at Princeton in 1942, working on polymer physical chemistry with Michel Magat and, after receiving his doctorate in 1945, continued to work there and at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project. He returned to California in 1946 to carry out post-doctoral research with Joel Hildebrand as a Frank B. Jewett fellow at UC Berkeley. 

Early in 1948, in a letter to William G. Young, Joel Hildebrand wrote “I have a remarkably able young man working with me, Dr. Robert L. Scott, who should be snapped up by one of the first class departments….He is good enough to join this Department, but with Zimm and Jura, we are pretty well supplied with good men familiar with this general field.  I am writing, therefore to suggest that you might like to use him.” In May 1948 Young recommended to the provost that Bob should be appointed as Assistant Professor (at an annual salary of $4200) and enclosed letters of recommendation from Hildebrand, Hugh Taylor of Princeton and Henry Eyring. He noted that he had also spoken with John G. Kirkwood at Yale, who “enthusiastically stated that he considered him one of the most promising younger physical chemists in the country.”  Bob%20and%20Libby%20Scott 0Bob lived up to this praise. Over the years he developed an experimental and theoretical research program in thermodynamics and statistical mechanics that established himself as a leading expert in the physical chemistry of liquids, polymer and nonelectrolyte solutions. The book “Solubility of Nonelectrolytes”, which he co-authored with Joel Hildebrand is a classic.  His theoretical work on the phase behavior of sulfur and the behavior of the heat capacity in the vicinity of a critical point anticipated the intense interest in critical phenomena that blossomed in the early 1960’s. In a remarkable series of papers he showed how simple equations of state, such as the van der Waals equation, could account for the panoply of phase behavior seen in fluids at high pressure, work that was cited when he received the 1984 ACS Hildebrand (“Liquids”) Award. He was also the recipient of Guggenheim and NSF Senior Postdoctoral Fellowhips and was a Fulbright Lecturer in New Zealand. His first publication, on the thermodynamics of high polymer solutions, appeared in the Journal of Chemical Physics in 1945; his last publication, on an insightful way to understand the statistical mechanical calculation of the heat capacity of gases, appeared in the Journal of Chemical Education 61 years later. Bob’s career at UCLA was notable for his service. Early on, he was chair of the building committee for the design of the labs, classrooms and offices in Charles E. Young Hall. (The Department was housed in Haines Hall when Bob joined the faculty and construction of the new building began in 1963.) He served a five-year term as department chair, and was a member of several important Academic Committees: Academic Personnel; Campus Planning; Academic Innovation; Faculty Welfare; Graduate Council. In 1948 neither quantum mechanics nor statistical mechanics was taught in the Chemistry curriculum. They were introduced by Bob, who taught the first Stat Mech course, and Bill McMillan, who taught the first quantum course. For nearly twenty years after his retirement in 1993, Bob continued to remain active in the department, refereeing papers, attending seminars and serving as the “go-to-guy” when there were knotty questions about statistical mechanics or thermodynamics, and lending his wisdom to discussions in faculty meetings.
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A montage of photos created by Bob’s children to honor their father.

Many former students and postdocs have remarked about the hospitality they received from Bob and his wife Libby who welcomed them into their home and introduced them to the joys of hiking in the local mountains and backpacking in the Sierra.  Bob was a strong advocate for social justice, an unapologetic liberal who was known to slam his fist on the breakfast room table as he read something upsetting in the morning paper. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of history and a remarkable memory. For example, he was able to recount in precise detail the day-to-day itineraries of his many trips throughout the world.
In the words of David Fenby one of Bob’s students, “Bob: an outstanding scholar; a man of wide culture; a family man; a great friend and an immense influence in my life” – a sentiment to which Bob’s friends, students and colleagues would heartily agree.

Memorial services are pending.