Hugo Steinfink 1924 – 2012

[Hugo Steinfink]

Hugo Steinfink, past president of the ACA and professor emeritus in chemical engineering at U. of Texas at Austin, passed away at the age of 88, on August 25th, 2012, following complications from a cardiac procedure. Born in Vienna, Austria on May 22, 1924, Hugo arrived in New York City in 1939. In 1941, he entered City College of NY, but World War II interrupted his studies when he served as an Army medic. He received a BS in chemistry in 1947, followed by a master’s degree in 1948 from Columbia U. When Hugo began work at Shell Development Company, he was assigned responsibilities for the X-ray diffraction laboratory. He talked his boss into letting him attend one of Isidor Fankuchen’s 'Two Week Wonders' short courses. He returned to Fan’s lab in New York in 1952, where he earned his PhD in X-ray crystallography at Brooklyn Polytechnic Inst. With Fan, Ben Post and Josh Ladell, Hugo developed a low-temperature Weissenberg camera and used it to determine the structure of octamethyl cyclotetrasiloxane, an important monomer in the production of silicone polymers.

He returned to Shell in Houston where he specialized in silicate mineral and organo-silicon crystal structures. He was made Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America in 1956 and was listed in American Men and Women of Science, Who’s Who in Technology, and Who’s Who in the South and Southwest. In 1960 Hugo left Shell Development for a career at U. of Texas at Austin, helping to build its 'ceramics' programs. A 1962 Time magazine reported that Steinfink was brought to Texas with the promise of unlimited freedom and a $30,000 diffractometer. The presence of Steinfink and a new, $4,000,000, eight-story laboratory were used to lure U. of Illinois’ chemist William Bradley, a leading authority on the molecular structure of materials, to Texas. Hugo was appointed the Jewel McAlister Smith Prof. in Engineering in 1981, and named the T. Brockett Hudson Prof. of Chemical Eng. He was a co-initiator of the Materials Science and Engineering Graduate Program of UT that became a PhD degree granting program. Hugo loved teaching X-ray crystallography. In the 1970s he resurrected Fan’s Two Week Wonders by teaching a one week complete course in powder diffraction.

Hugo authored and co-authored over 150 technical publications concerning structure-property relationships in solid-state materials (silicates, zeolites, chalcogenides and high-temperature superconductors). Along with Steve Swinnea he determined the structure of a basic superconductor just before the start of the 1987 ACA meeting in Austin. An evening session presenting the same results was added to the program two days before the 'Woodstock of Physics' session at the New York APS meeting. In his last months Hugo was working with colleagues on a novel cubo-siloxane structure.

He was a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Lambda Upsilon, and Sigma Xi. He was Chairman of the American Chemical Society, Central Texas Section (1966), served on the USNCCr, was President of the ACA (1995), a co-editor of Acta Crystallographica (1984-93) and an Associate Editor of American Mineralogist (1970-72). He was a board member of the American Inst. of Physics (1989-95) and a visiting professor at the U. of Lille, France (1995).

Hugo was a patient and giving man who combined his brilliance, sense of fairness and curiosity with a dry wit. He shared his life experiences from his childhood in Nazi Vienna to the latest books he thought worthwhile for all to read. He instilled his thirst for knowledge in his children and grandchildren.

Hugo was an avid tennis and squash player most of his life. He traveled the world, including a safari in Africa for his 80th birthday. He was devoted to Cele, his adoring wife of 64 years. He was loved and respected by his family, and many friends, colleagues and students.

ACA RefleXions, Winter 2012