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Joseph Frederick Bunnett ’42

A picture of Joseph Bunnett

Professor Bunnett at UCSC Victor Schiffrin

Joseph Frederick Bunnett ’42, May 23, 2015, in Santa Cruz, California.

Joe entered Reed with Washington High classmates Jack Dudman ’42, Irwin Harrowitz ’42, Russell Parker ’42, and Douglas Smith ’42. At the new student mixer in fall 1938, he met Sara A. Telfer ’42—a good dancer, he noted, whose mother, Annie Harrison Telfer ’15, was a member of Reed’s first graduating class. Joe and Sara spent a lot of time on the dance floor and in Outing Club adventures in the years that followed; they married after they graduated.

At Reed, Joe worked closely with his thesis adviser, Prof. Arthur Scott [chemistry 1923–79]. After earning a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Rochester, Joe returned to Reed to teach organic chemistry in 1946–52.

Joe was interested in kinetics, equilibria, and the mechanisms of organic reactions. He chaired the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry Committee on Chemical Weapons Destruction Technologies; served on committees of the National Research Council, Department of Defense, and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; and participated in several NATO Advanced Research Workshops concerned with chemical weapons.

He taught at the University of North Carolina, Brown, and UC Santa Cruz (UCSC), where he remained until his retirement in 1991. During his career, he held visiting positions in Argentina, Australia, Germany, Scotland, India, Japan, Jerusalem, Moscow, New Zealand, and the People’s Republic of China. He won two Fulbright fellowships—one to University College in London and one to the University of Munich in Germany (where he also spent a Guggenheim fellowship). He founded the journal Accounts of Chemical Research and was a fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

In 2001, Joe’s colleagues at UCSC founded the annual Joseph F. Bunnett Research Organic Chemistry Lecture to celebrate his career.

His honors included Phi Beta Kappa, the Society of Sigma Xi, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He won the James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry from the American Chemical Society in 1992 and the University of Rochester Distinguished Scholar Award in 1995.

Joe served on Reed’s board of trustees for 27 years and earned the Foster-Scholz Club’s distinguished service award in 2007. He and Sara also established the Annie Jordan Harrison Memorial Scholarship.

Prof. Ilan Benjamin, chair of the UCSC chemistry department, remarked that Joe was already an outstanding scientist when he arrived at the university. “He continued a distinguished career as one of the most nationally and internationally respected physical organic chemists, making his mark not only in publishing seminal papers in the area of organic reaction mechanisms, but also as an educator and leader.”

Survivors include two sons, Alfred and David. Joe was predeceased by Sara and his son Peter.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2015

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