Remembering Bill Giessen
Professor Bill Giessen of Arlington passed away on Thursday, March 25, 2010.
Dr. Giessen, a Faculty Fellow of the Barnett Institute, was a beloved member of the Northeastern University community for more than forty years. He was born June 8, 1932 in Pittsburgh, PA, but grew up in Germany where he received his ScD in Metalurgy from Goettingen University. He did his post-graduate work at MIT before becoming a professor at Northeastern. He was also recognized in American Men and Women of Science, and honored as an Outstanding Educator of America.
He had 225 published papers and 15 patents on materials and alloys. In addition to his professional work, he did much to bridge the German and Jewish communities, including founding the Robert Solomon Morton Lecture series presented each Holocaust Week, sponsoring the Gustel C. Giessen Memorial Lecture in Jewish Studies and the Gideon Klein Award for Young Musicians. He was the husband of Mary Carolyn Burns, father of Nora Giessen, and grandfather of Fredrike and Bruno Giron-Giessen.
A memorial for Dr. Giessen was held on Thursday, April 1 at the Northeastern University Sacred Space. Remarks and tributes were offered by Barry Karger, Director of the Barnett Institute; Graham Jones, Chair of Chemistry and Chemical Biology; Ann Grenell of the Holocaust Awareness Committee; Directors of the Jewish Studies Program; former student Krassimir Marchev-Gillette, PhD; Robert Markiewicz, Professor of Physics; and Dr. Giessen's daugher, Nora.
Below are comments by Dr. Barry Karger, offered in honor of Bill Giessen on April 1, 2010.
"I learned of Bill’s passing from a call on my cell phone from Rich Pumphrey last Friday while I was in Europe. I must say I was stunned and saddened. On the plane ride home, I thought a lot about the 40 plus years that Bill and I worked together at Northeastern University. Bill was special and in many ways ahead of his time.
"In 1972, when the idea of an analytical chemistry institute grew out of contacts with the Dreyfus Foundation, Bill stepped forward and worked closely with me and Dean Norman Rosenblatt of the College of Criminal Justice in founding and growing the Institute of Chemical Analysis, Applications and Forensic Science, as it was called in those days. You may think it strange that Bill would be involved, given that his research interests were far removed from analytical chemistry – he was a material scientist working in metal alloys and metallic glasses. But Bill saw an opportunity for building a new organization, an opportunity for entrepreneurship and creativity. He became Associate Director of the Institute, a position he held for over 30 years. We worked closely together all that time, and I want to tell everyone that Bill played a major role in the development of the Institute. The stature it holds today is in no small measure due to his creativity and strategic thinking.
"Bill was someone of boundless energy. He ran in the Boston Marathon, for example. He was someone interested in many fields at once. Well before the current push toward interdisciplinary research and education, Bill had many of his students’ Ph.D. thesis committees consist of chemists, physicists and engineers. In the 1980’s, he spun out a company from the Barnett Institute on the topic of environmental testing. It was not common to do this at that time – venture capitalists were not so prominent. Cambridge Analytical Associates was successful and sold after a few years of operation. His creative energies moved him toward a new field in the 1990’s – economic forecasting. He even trained students in this area.
"Bill was an outstanding professor in research and entrepreneurship. But more than that, he was a wonderful teacher and role model. In memory of his father and mother, he established an endowed fund in the Barnett Institute to support students in their professional development. Many students in the Institute have benefited from his foresight. You will hear more from others on his interest in Jewish studies at Northeastern, again with a strong student focus.
"I sent an announcement out to friends and staff of the Barnett Institute on Bill’s passing. I received many e-mails of condolence. Let me mention only three. Rob Garnick remembered taking a course in thermodynamics from Bill that helped him understand many of the principles involved in separation science, a field he used to great advantage at Genentech. Eugene Moskovitz wrote, 'It was a great pleasure talking to him about science, European history, musical instrument designs, etc. He was a walking encyclopedia.' And the mother of the Institute for 18 years, Beverly Brenner, wrote, 'Bill was always willing to give students his devoted attention. He was a true mentor. He will always occupy a place in my heart.'
"To Mary and Nora, let me say Bill played a significant role in where Northeastern is today. He was an intellectual giant with a wonderful heart. His boundless energy and enthusiasm always encouraged us all. It’s hard for us to accept that he is not with us anymore, but he will remain in our hearts and minds. He has left a wonderful legacy at Northeastern University."
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