Prominent Chemist Paul Barbara Dies at 57

Nov. 3, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — Chemistry Professor Paul F. Barbara, 57, one of The University of Texas at Austin's most prominent scientists, died on Oct. 31 due to complications following cardiac arrest.

Dr. Paul BarbaraBarbara held the Richard J. V. Johnson Welch Regents' Chair in Chemistry. He received many awards and accolades throughout his career, beginning with a Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1984. In 2009, he was awarded the E. Bright Wilson Award in Spectroscopy by the American Chemical Society, recognizing his innovative experimental probes of the dynamics of chemical processes. In 2006, Barbara was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious association of scientists in the nation. For 15 years he was senior editor for one of the premier chemistry journals, Accounts of Chemical Research.

Barbara's recent research probed the molecular arrangement of individual polymer molecules in order to understand how this structure affects the molecular behavior in complex environments, such as plastic solar cells. Earlier work in his labs involved ultrafast measurements to study how electrons exchange between molecules and move through liquids. During his career, he published more than 200 influential and widely cited journal articles. He was also a mentor to more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral research fellows. Thirty-four are now professors at universities in the United States, Asia and Europe.

Barbara was a campus leader in stimulating collaborative research efforts. In 2000, he founded the university's Center for Nano and Molecular Science and Technology, which grew from a grassroots faculty effort to become a cornerstone of nanoscience research for the university's science and engineering community. Barbara steered the campaign for a central nanoscience facility on campus, leading in 2006 to the $37 million Nano Science and Technology building (now the Larry R. Faulkner Nano Science and Technology Building). This building houses more than $17 million in scientific equipment that is used in the research by more than 300 students and faculty each year.

In 2009 the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $13 million to a team of university faculty led by Barbara to study the fundamental chemical processes that limit the efficiency of plastic solar cell materials. This award represents the largest single program at The University of Texas at Austin to be funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"This is a terrible loss for the College of Natural Sciences, the university and for me personally," said Mary Ann Rankin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. "Paul was a brilliant scientist and visionary leader and was tireless in pursuit of resources and talent for our nanoscience program. He leaves a large group of students, staff, postdoctoral associates and faculty colleagues behind who were expecting to work with him for years to come. I count myself among those who relied on Paul for advice and leadership. We have lost our guiding star and a great friend."

Barbara grew up in New York City and received his bachelor of science degree in chemistry at Hofstra University in 1974. He completed his doctor's degree at Brown University in 1978, and pursued postdoctoral studies at Bell Laboratories until 1980. Prior to joining The University of Texas at Austin Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1998, Barbara was a faculty member for 18 years at the University of Minnesota, where he was named 3M-Alumni Distinguished Professor of Chemistry.

Barbara is survived by his wife Sharon, son Jason, daughter Juliet, three grandchildren, his brother and sister.

For more information, contact: Lee Clippard, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 512-232-0104.

27 Comments to "Prominent Chemist Paul Barbara Dies at 57"

1.  Prashant Kamat said on Nov. 3, 2010

Paul was a great friend, mentor and a colleague. His contributions to spectroscopy and photochemistry has influenced many. We will miss you at the next DOE Solar Photochemistry meeting

2.  R. Malcolm Brown, Jr. said on Nov. 3, 2010

We have lost one of our most brilliant researchers, and on top of that, Paul was a very nice person! I will miss our parking lot conversations and want his family to know that he was a real force of positive energy on our campus. We are lucky to have brought such a talented person to UT-Austin. My sincere condolences to Paul's family.

3.  Saurabh Ghosh said on Nov. 3, 2010

Requiscat in Pace

4.  Biman Bagchi said on Nov. 3, 2010

Paul was an extra-ordinary person, a great scientist and a good, loyal friend. His concern for his colleagues was legendary. Even he was very busy, he would always find time to reach out and help others. May be in the process he over-worked himself.

I knew him from Brown University days -- we both were PhD students there. I would like to share with all a small anecdote that illustrates Paul's character. In the winter semester of 1977, I had to present a term paper on Computer Simulations. So, I fished around for some help -- Brown was a small department then, with no body doing simulations, but I was told "the ONLY person who can explain these things to you is Paul". So, my search for Paul began but it was so hard to get him ! He was also doing a part time job at a company that sold FTIR-NMR machine. Finally I got hold of him when he was running down the staircase and asked him for a discussion. He told 'Biman, I am very busy now -- I can spend only a minute with you" and proceeded to explain the subject. He spent more than an hour telling me about simulations.
I don't remember how much it helped but his enthusiasm and the eagerness left a permanent print on my mind.
He was always busy -- at Brown he always used to run up and down the stairs -- he was slim and had long hair and sported a beard. Always smiling -- stopping long enough to say "hi".
It is a great loss for the community and for me personally -- he visited me Bangalore and was supposed to come again -- this time with his family.
We were all concerned for him but i do not think any of us anticipated this early demise.
I always thought that Paul was improving with time -- he seemed to know every thing. The more you talk with him, the smarter he appeared. But he was at the same time humble which is not that much seen these days.

I lost a very good friend. When somebody like Paul leaves, we lose a bit of our life too, and emptiness lingers.
We shall miss him dearly. My heartfelt sympathies for his wife Sharon, daughter Juliet and other family members.

5.  Lewis Rothberg said on Nov. 4, 2010

Dear Colleagues,

Paul was not only a brilliant scientist but a thoughtful and caring man who did considerable public service for the community and mentoring of young scientists. In his science, he displayed exemplary intellectual curiosity and honesty and was a genunine role model for all of us. I am deeply saddened by his death and will miss him both personally and professionally.


Lewis Rothberg
University of Rochester Dept of Chemistry

6.  Jodi Pfaff said on Nov. 4, 2010

Dear Sharon and Juliet,
I am so sorry for your loss. I feel honored to have met Paul at Juliet's graduation. My heart is with you through these very difficult times. Jodi Pfaff (Marit's Mom).

7.  Melissa said on Nov. 4, 2010

This is a terrible loss to the UT community, especially the College of Natural Sciences. I send my condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

8.  Shez Ismail said on Nov. 4, 2010

You Will Be Missed Professor Barbara

9.  Allye Ratledge said on Nov. 5, 2010

I worked in the VP Research office for over 6 years. I met Dr. Barbara within my first week in that office. He was as friendly then as he was the last time I saw him. This is a huge loss to the UT Austin community and to the world! My deepest condolences to the Barbara family.

10.  Wes Thompson said on Nov. 5, 2010

As a fellow faculty, I knew that Paul Barbara was an incredible scientist who brought acclaim to our university. However, I knew him best for the exchanges we had on the sidewalks and in O's about our daughters who were entering college near the same time. Paul was a easy person with whom to talk. He was immensely proud of his family and delighted in talking about them.

11.  Torsten Fiebig said on Nov. 5, 2010

The world has lost one of its greatest scientists! Paul was incredibly knowledgable and a brillantly creative mind. He had a deeper understanding of molecular physics than almost anyone I have ever met.
But more important than that, he was a wonderful human being, a great mentor, colleague and friend.

We will all miss you, Paul!


12.  Da Hsuan Feng said on Nov. 5, 2010

I am deeply saddened by the demise of my dear friiend Paul. He was a brilliant scientist, and a great human being. He mentored my son when my son was an undergraduate at UTAustin, and his kindness simply oozes out of his soul........I will miss him

Da Hsuan Feng

13.  John M. Jean said on Nov. 7, 2010

I am truly sad to hear of Paul's passing. He was a remarkable (and tireless) scientist, and a great mentor to many of us. I first met him while I was a postdoc in 1988. Several years later, when I was a young assistant professor he invited me to stay a couple of days with him, Sharon, and Juliet in Minneapolis. We spent virtually two straight days and nights talking about ideas. It was a very inspiring visit for me and one I still think about. Paul's willingness to take a young person just starting out and extend such a generous invitation showed his love of science and his generosity of spirit.

I had the great fortune of spending an evening with him this past summer in Berkeley while attending a conference in honor of our colleague (and my mentor) Graham Fleming. Paul's warmth, generosity, and love of conversation had not waned one bit. I am sad that I and others will no longer have a chance to experience that.

Dear Sharon and Juliet-I was honored to have spent time with Paul and will think of him often. My deepest condolences.

John Jean
Associate Professor
Regis University

14.  V. Nagarajan said on Nov. 7, 2010

I am shocked to hear about Paul's early demise. He was an excellent mentor and seeded in me an interest in instrumentation that I am grateful for. He had a knack for seeing the big picture and had the capacity to tie together seemingly disparate observations. His death is a huge loss to science.

15.  Charles Sorgie said on Nov. 7, 2010

I went to Hofstra with Paul and lived with him for a year while we attended Brown. We drove from NY to RI together. Just moments ago, I stumbled across this news. I found Paul incredibly brilliant and incredibly funny. I can still see him demoing the circuit board he modified for the Bruker NMR in his animated way, with a big smile on his face. For all of you who have worked with him closely over the past years, I am sincerely sorry for your personal and professional loss. My heart goes out to all of you, and to his family.

16.  Ralph Jones said on Nov. 8, 2010

As an architect I may not have understood the science Paul was talking about but knew what he wanted. A facility of the first degree in which to forward his scientific pursuits. I am proud to have known Dr Barbara and been a part of the construction team that constructed his facility.
Rest in peace Paul.
Ralph Jones
Project Manager,
Project Management & Construction Services
The University of Texas
Austin, Texas

17.  Da Hsuan Feng said on Nov. 8, 2010

Colleagues: I wrote this in 2006 about Paul.....I am so sad he left us so suddenly

Da Hsuan Feng’s introduction of Paul Barbara who presented a talk to the public in Austin on “Nanotechnology: Solutions for Societies Greatest Technological Challenges” after the inauguration of the new $36 Million Nanotechnology Science and Technology building on November 2, 2006

I am not sure why or how I was given this enormous honor to introduce Paul Barbara, but I will not refuse it.

Ever since I came to Texas six years ago, I met many outstanding individuals all across the State. Many became truly good personal friends, and Paul is certainly one of them. Paul and his family are genuine people. You get what you see in them. He is just a very good human being.

After I met Paul, I soon found out that he and I had one thing in common: We both spent time in the University of Minnesota. I spent four years as a graduate student and he was for eighteen years a distinguished professor in the chemistry department. I guess after eighteen years, Paul wanted to find a place that is a little warmer (or a lot warmer.) So please take heart at Austin: the truly outstanding quality of the research atmosphere of UT Austin was only a partial reason why Paul was attracted to your university.

There is no question that UT Austin benefited enormously by “luring” Paul from Minnesota. What we experienced earlier today, where we cut the ribbon of the new and magnificent building known as Nano Science and Technology (NST) building, is but one of the benefits of UT Austin received in getting Paul. This $36 million building, where I am sure some of the most spectacular research and development will be carried out in Texas in years to come, was the brainchild of Paul. In the past several years, I have seen Paul eat, sleep and dream NST. His vision, coupled with tenacity to carry out details of the project, was unbelievable.

Second, Texas’ nanotechnology program has made incredible strides in the past six years. No doubt, Senator Hutchison is the champion of SPRING (Strategic Partnership for Research in Nanotechnology), and now CONTACT (Consortium for Nanomaterials for Aerospace Commerce and Technology). SPRING and CONTACT have and will continue to make an international name for Texas. At the grass-root level, there are of course many people who can claim and should receive credit. Among them, I think I am not exaggerating to say that Paul absolutely stands out. I am sure I speak for all the SPRING and CONTACT folks that we thank him from the bottom of our heart for his enormous contributions.

Finally, for a scientist, doing research and seeing great results are the ultimate rewards. To this end, Paul is of course already infinitely rewarded. However, in the United States, there are two accolades which I am sure will make one feel very rewarded. One is to be inducted to be a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Paul received this accolade just this Spring (no pun intended). The other I am sure will be forthcoming!

Let me also take this opportunity to present to Paul a present which my two colleagues, Ray Baughman (who cannot be here) and Anvar Zakhidov, wanted me to present to Paul. This is a cartoon drawn by a Russian scientist during a conference in UTD a few years ago. The cartoon depicted a lamb (perhaps a graduate student) frighteningly presenting a talk, facing the blackboard, and many hungry looking wolves (faculty) staring at the lamb. On the floor, was a pile of bones. People who signed the cartoon were Alan MacDiarmid (Nobel in chemistry in 2000), Alan Heeger (Nobel in chemistry in 2000), Alexi Abrikosov (Nobel in physics in 2003) and Vitali Ginzburg (Nobel in physics in 2003).

Someday, hopefully, Paul will sign this cartoon as well.

May I present to you, Paul Barbara.

(Enclosed picture is when the ribbon was cut for the ceremony)

18.  Ian Thomas McCulloch said on Nov. 10, 2010

I remember him cooking as if he were conducting a chemistry experiment. He measured the onions the recipe called for down to the gram and applied just the right amount of heat to ensure the desired chemical change would take place. I was kind of surprised he didn't make stir fry in beakers on bunsen burners. But I can't knock his method, because the meals I had with the Barbaras were always delicious. And dinner conversations with such an inspiring man and his wonderful family were even more enjoyable. I never left the table without something new to ponder. The world suffers a great loss in Paul Barbara, but his lessons and the love he gave to his family and friends remain in our minds and hearts forever.

19.  mark ratner said on Nov. 14, 2010

Sometimes there just aren’t words, and this may be one of those times. Paul was one of my best friends in science, he was a role model for nearly any scientist, he was a role model for nearly any husband and father and friend. In many ways, Paul was the model for what I would like my children to be, and how I would like to be. His enthusiasm, his warmth, his quirks, his humor, and his delight in the things that are made for delight (warm relationships, nature, his family, science when it’s good, friendships always, institution building) are the things for which, in the end, we all strive.

Paul was always one of my favorite people to talk to about science, about life, about teaching, about families, and about values. He has uniquely positive ways of looking at nearly everything – remarks like, “Let’s turn it around”, or “On the other hand...” or “I think there’s a way if we...” – those are signature Paul Barbara lines, lines that were always followed by something quirky and wonderful. He spent about four days living at my house when we worked on the centennial volume of JPC – that was a spectacular, dazzling summertime grand flight.

So now he is gone, and the pieces of the world are scattered. They are certainly scattered for me, for Paul’s family, and for the world of chemistry. Paul was a very dear person, one who brightened the world for so many, one whose light will be sorely, sorely missed by all of us. For all of us who feel a hole in our lives, there is the knowledge that after a certain time, we will think back to the wonderful times with Paul – to his bike riding, to his enthusiasms, to his new visions for the way science should operate and scientists should behave, to his bigger thoughts about education, and institutions, and the society. Paul was an inspiration - the flames that he kindled will burn bright for a very long time.

20.  Stephen Smith said on Nov. 16, 2010

The people of Quantel group pass on their condolences to both the family and the spectroscopy community on the event of Professor Barbara's passing.

21.  Gary Rodman said on Nov. 19, 2010

I knew Paul in the 80's when I was a grad student at Minnesota. He was a dynamic and inspring teacher and researcher, and a great guy to be around. His untimely death is shocking and sad. My condolences to his family.

22.  Sam Kamin said on Nov. 23, 2010

Just learned this terrible news. Paul and I were very close friends in high school and college (at Hofstra). Had a lot of great times together. Above all, Paul was so enthusiastic about life - interested in everything, loved to talk. Paul is actually the reason I ended up in computers. In 1972, he got interested in computers. Even though chemistry was his first love, he decided he would learn about the Hofstra University mainframe by reading through the manuals - about five feet worth. Twice. Typical of him. Anyway, I guess he decided I needed direction, so he got me a job at the computer center (where Charlie Sorgie, who wrote above, was already a student worker).

Lost contact for a long time, but saw him last year when he visited Champaign. Still full of enthusiasm. Too down-to-earth to brag - I honestly didn't realize what a big success he had become.

Paul was just one of the greatest guys I ever knew. My condolences to Sharon and the children.

23.  Lidia T. Calcaterra said on Dec. 1, 2010

Just a month ago I was perusing information on nanotechnology and came across Paul's work and learnt that he was at U of Texas. I went into his website and was very happy to see all that he has done. I meant to jot him an email to congratulate him and also thank him. I wish I would have. I met Paul when he was a postdoc at Bell Laboratories with Peter Rentzepis. I was a graduate student with professor Schuster at NYU and was carrying out xenon heavy atom effect experiments at P. Rentzepis lab. I did not have a car and could not have reached Bell Labs had it not been for Paul. He who was so kind that every morning for a couple of months, pick me up at the bus station and drove me to Bell Labs. He also waited for me to complete the experiments of the day to drive me back to the bus station. He did that just because he was a very nice person and wanted to help a grad student. He also helped me with the set-up whenever there were problems with its functioning. A month ago, I wanted to say thank you to him. I wish I would have.

24.  Ion Garate said on Dec. 7, 2010

I took his Nanoscience & Nanotechnology class back in 2006.
As a condensed matter physicist, I found his insights very interesting and original.
He was a very upbeat and approachable instructor too.
I am deeply saddened to learn about his untimely demise.

25.  RosAnn Flenner said on Dec. 8, 2010

As Paul's sister - in law, we were spending a weekend with them while he was still at the University of Minnesota. His energy seemed endless, he would pop in for meals and conversations, then head back to his lab for hours on end.
I remarked one evening that he should slow down and not spend 18 hours a day at his lab. I will never forget how he suddenly stopped in his tracks, ( he was always moving) and looked at me with complete astonishment. He said, " But I love it!" My job is interesting and it pays the bills, but I can't say I love it. Those four words have been a guiding light for me as I raise my children. I wish for them the ability to have a career where they can honestly say "I love it!"

Enjoy the next dimension Paul, I'm sure thats where you were headed. We'll miss you until we catch up!

26.  Jack Syage said on Dec. 14, 2010

This is so hard to fathom. Paul was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm that you thought would go on forever. Regretably since I left the world of research and laser spectroscopy to form Syagen, I have been less in touch with the community and only recently heard the news. Paul and I crossed paths in life many times. I always deeply admired his work and insights and his always finding new directions to move into. Though I was in a different area of laser spectroscopy I frequently sought his thoughts and opinions. I always enjoyed running into him at conferences and talks. But what few people know is that we were graduate students together in a very different discipline, namely NMR and CIDNP working for Prof. Ron Lawler at Brown. Being two years my senior, he took me under his wing and taught me so much ranging from Fortran to electronics to organic synthesis and of course the intricacies of NMR. He knew a lot about everything and tied all this knowledge together in unique and amazing ways. He was also a lot of fun at parties and we had our share! He was a true inspiration for me and materially shaped my career. Paul did the unthinkable and left a graduate discipline to do something very different and that was postdoc'ing at Bell labs under Peter Rentzepis in the new emerging field of ultrafast spectroscopy. That gave me the courage to get out of the comfort zone and make a big career change also going off to postdoc for Ahmed Zewail. Paul and my careers crossed many times after that. It is also humorous to me that he went to Hofstra University since when I was growing up in Uniondale, Long Island, our neighborhood was literally surrounded by Hofstra and that was my playground for many years (having Joe Namath throw passes to me is another story!). I am moved by how many people Paul knew and the relationships he kept from his early years as attested by the many rememberances above. So Paul be assured that we will all carry your spirit forward!

27.  stuart zweibel said on Dec. 18, 2011

Paul and I were close friends in high school and throughout our college days. we grew apart as his commitment to science and doctoral work absorbed him. i watched his career from afar.
Paul had boundless energy and charisma and we shared a kind of merry prankster life style. Sam knows what I mean. We went across country in 1974 and Paul never stopped talking about science. He brought chem texts on hiking trips to the canadian rockies to prepare for graduate work at Brown . I brought a flute. I loved Paul -we shared a passion for the zany and unconventional. it is rewarding to know that he was able to use his energy to become a distinguished scientist. People should know that he described what he wanted to do in 1974 even prior to his graduate work. Paul had a sparkle in his eye and a smile to match. we spent two months hiking and sharing a tent in the canadian rockies soaking up the beauty and mystery of the natural world - no trail food for us but rather rehydrated exotic chinese mushrooms and dried fish things that we barely recognized that lured fellow hikers to our campfire. I cooked but paul was the procurer and inspiration.