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Aron Kuppermann, leading chemical physicist, dies at 85

Aron Kuppermann, a longtime California Institute of Technology researcher in the field of chemical physics who was known for theoretical studies of the dynamics of chemical reactions, died in California on Oct. 15 at 85.

In the early 1970s, Kuppermann completed the world’s first complete three-dimensional quantum-mechanical calculation of a chemical reaction, a Caltech article said, and then he “pioneered the use of supercomputers for predicting the cross sections and rates of chemical reactions.” Caltech Professor Rudy Noyes said Kuppermann would be remembered for "the challenging work he did on fundamental quantum-mechanical treatments of the dynamics of chemical reactions.” The field of quantum chemistry applies quantum mechanics for explaining and predicting chemical behaviors.

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According to Caltech, Kuppermann developed the methodology for treating the complex relationships between electrons and nuclei in reactions, accounting for all possible relative positions and rotations in higher dimensional spaces. He started by treating a three-atom system involving just a single atom colliding with a diatomic molecule, and then moved on to systems with four or five atoms.

In recent years, Kuppermann also consulted for the World Bank and traveled to China, Uganda and Brazil to work on the development of scientific infrastructure in those countries.

Kuppermann was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1926. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Polytechnic School of the University of Sao Paulo, did graduate training in radiation chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, and received his doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Notre Dame. He spent eight years on the faculty at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. At the California Institute of Technology, he was a professor of chemical physics from 1963 to 2010.

Click here to read an update with fascinating personal details of Kuppermann’s life and family.

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org.

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