The University of Chicago News Office
Sept. 2, 2005 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
(773) 702-8366

Clyde Allen Hutchison Jr., Chemist, 1913-2005

    High-resolution Photo:
Clyde Hutchison Jr.

University of Chicago chemistry Professor Clyde Hutchison Jr., a pioneer in the science of magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a technique that led to useful medical and technological insights into the magnetic properties of matter, died Monday, Aug. 29, of prostate cancer in the Montgomery Place Retirement Community in Chicago, He was 92.

Hutchison adopted electron magnetic resonance spectroscopy shortly after its invention, said John A. Weil, professor emeritus of chemistry and physics at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. "He started out as a pioneer in that field at the beginning, and had a genius for discerning important projects," Weil said. "There were no textbooks then. There were no manufacturers of instruments. I was in on that generation. We had to learn it for ourselves because there was nothing yet in the libraries."

Nuclear and electronic magnetic resonance spectroscopy eventually gave birth to magnetic resonance imaging, which is widely used in medicine and in studying the physics of solids, said Weil, who received his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1955 at the University of Chicago under Hutchison's tutelage. Hutchison, working at first with military surplus equipment, used the technique to study fundamental scientific questions about the magnetic properties of single atoms and molecules.

But Hutchison's work made it possible for other scientists, including Weil, to conduct a variety of additional studies. Weil, for example, has examined the magnetic properties of defects in quartz crystals, which are widely used as oscillators to generate signals in electronic equipment and in wristwatches to keep accurate time. "The limits of accuracy are defined by small amounts of impurities, many of which I've studied by magnetic resonance," Weil said.

Donald Levy, the Albert Michelson Distinguished Service Professor in Chemistry at the University of Chicago, remembers Hutchison as a great colleague who had a significant impact on the Chemistry Department. "He always used to refer to going to Chemistry Department seminars like going to church on Sundays when he was a child," Levy said. "He didn't ask what was playing, he just went every Monday at 4 because that was one of the things you did."

As a teacher, Hutchison had doubts that formal courses were the best way for graduate students to learn, said Stephen Berry, the James Franck Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Chemistry at the University of Chicago. "He gave many, many extended series of voluntary seminars on selected topics, in which students were expected to make presentations. Students and faculty were all great fans of these seminars," Berry said.

Hutchison also cultivated a deliberately eccentric sense of humor, Berry said. "As I recall, the clocks in his laboratory had dials up to 24. If someone asked for an appointment at 5 o'clock, he'd typically say, 'why yes, if that is what you would like-but I'm usually asleep at that time. Oh, perhaps you mean 1700 hours!"

Hutchison was born May 5, 1913, in Alliance, Ohio. The son of a Methodist minister, he served as organist for his father's congregations in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. "He loved music. He was an accomplished piano player. He could sight-read anything put in front of him," said Clyde Hutchison's son, Robert.

"At one time, during I would say the early 1930s, he and his brother had a weekly radio show in Columbus, Ohio. My uncle Dwight Hutchison sang contemporary popular music and show tunes and my father accompanied him on the piano," Robert Hutchinson said. "He was a man of many talents."

Clyde Hutchison received his bachelor's degree in 1933 from Cedarville College and his Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1937. He then went to Columbia University as a National Research Council Fellow and worked with Nobel laureate Harold Urey. In 1939 he left Columbia to become an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Buffalo.

During the war years Hutchison participated in the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb, at Columbia University and the University of Virginia. In 1946 he was appointed to the second executive committee of the Atomic Scientists of Chicago, a group that organized to campaign for the peaceful use of nuclear power under international control. Among Hutchison's fellow committee members was Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb.

Hutchison became an assistant professor in chemistry at the University of Chicago in 1945 and served as chairman of the University's department of chemistry from 1959-63. He retired as the Carl William Eisendrath Distinguished Service Professor in Chemistry in 1983.

He was editor of the Journal of Chemical Physics from 1953 to 1959 and a consultant to Argonne and Los Alamos national laboratories for many years. He served as a visiting lecturer or professor to many universities across the country, including Harvard, Stanford and Notre Dame, and in China, Japan, New Zealand, the Netherlands and England.

He was a visiting lecturer to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel in 1970, and twice served as a juror for the Wolf Foundation's Science Prize, which is awarded by Israel's Knesset. He also was the J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow to Oxford University in 1955-56 and 1972-73, and the George Eastman Professor at Oxford's Clarendon Laboratory in 1981-82.

Hutchison received many honors, including an honorary doctoral degree from Cedarville College and the Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry from the American Chemical Society. He was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences and was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He shares both distinctions with his son, Clyde Hutchison III, a professor emeritus of microbiology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a distinguished investigator of the J. Craig Venter Institute.

Hutchison's daughter, Sarah Hutchison Dunn, also pursued an academic career. She serves as dean of the University Division of Indiana University at Bloomington, overseeing the university's efforts to provide advising and support for new students. The other son, Robert, is an artist-illustrator of children's books for Kaplan Press in Chicago.

Hutchison married Sarah Jane West in 1937. She died in 1997. He is survived by a two sons and their wives, Clyde A. Hutchison III and Adair Phifer Hutchison, Chapel Hill, N.C.,; Robert W. Hutchison and Shelley Yvonne Kaplan, Esq., Chicago; a daughter and her husband, Sarah Hutchison Dunn and Jon Michael Dunn, Bloomington; a sister, Frances Bray, Claremont, Calif.; and four grandchildren, Clyde A. Hutchison IV, Edward Phifer West Hutchison, Jon Dunn and Jennifer Dunn.

Arrangements are pending for a memorial service in November.
Last modified at 01:58 PM CST on Tuesday, September 06, 2005.

University of Chicago News Office
5801 South Ellis Avenue - Room 200
Chicago, Illinois 60637-1473
(773) 702-8360
Fax: (773) 702-8324
Contact Us