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Chemist Herbert S. Gutowsky, pioneer of MRI, dies at 80

James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
(217) 244-1073;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Herbert S. Gutowsky, a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Illinois and a pioneer in the field of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, died Jan. 13 at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.  He was 80 years old.

Gutowsky’s breakthrough discoveries made NMR one of the most important spectroscopic tools in chemical and biochemical research and industrial chemistry.  His work led to the development of experimental and theoretical tools for studying the structure and dynamics of molecules in liquids, solids and gases.

“Gutowsky was the first chemist to apply the NMR method to chemical research,” said Jiri Jonas, a U. of I. professor of chemistry and the director of the university’s Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology

“His fundamental research on the principles of NMR and its applications had a monumental impact on chemistry and on virtually all scientific investigations requiring molecular structure analysis or reaction studies.”

Through his work, Gutowsky steadily increased the breadth of studies of the structure and molecular motion of molecules, the origin of chemical shifts in NMR spectra, the existence and origin of scalar spin-spin coupling, and the use of NMR to identify and characterize complex organic compounds.  His contributions formed an integral part of our understanding of chemistry.

Gutowsky’s achievements have been recognized by his election to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.  He also was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Gutowsky received numerous awards, including two awards from the American Chemical Society, the Irving Langmuir Award in Chemical Physics in 1966, and the Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry in 1975.  He also was awarded the prestigious National Medal of Science in 1977 and the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 1983.

He was appointed a fellow of the U. of I. Center for Advanced Study in 1983, the highest recognition the university bestows upon members of its faculty.  He also received the Pittsburgh Spectroscopy Award in 1992 and the John Kuebler Award of the Alpha Chi Sigma professional fraternity.

Gutowsky’s recent research focused on microwave rotational spectroscopy of weakly bonded neutral species and its extension to small molecular clusters.

Gutowsky received his bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in 1940.  After a four-year interruption because of military service in World War II, he received a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1946, and a doctoral degree from Harvard University in 1949.  He joined the U. of I. faculty in 1948 and became a full professor in 1956.

From 1967 to 1970 he headed the U. of I. department of chemistry and chemical engineering.  In 1970, he oversaw the creation of the School of Chemical Sciences encompassing chemistry and chemical engineering as separate departments.  He served as the head of chemical engineering and director of the school from 1970 to 1983.

Gutowsky was born Nov. 8, 1919, in Bridgman, Mich., a son of Otto and Hattie Neyer Gutowsky.  He married Virginia Warner on Aug. 1, 1982, in Bloomington, Ill.  She survives.

Also surviving are two sons, Robb E. Gutowsky of Edwina, Minn., and Christopher C. Gutowsky of Bloomington; three grandchildren; and a sister, Esther Ruth Enyart of Denver.

He was preceded in death by a son and five brothers.