Bookmark and Share

Edward C. Lingafelter (1914-2003)


Prof. Edward Clay Lingafelter died on April 7 at the age of 89. His wife of 65 years, Roberta, preceded her husband in death by one day.

Ed was awarded the Ph.D. degree in chemistry by the U. of California at Berkeley in 1939 where he distinguished himself, gained a broad knowledge of chemistry, and developed an assured confidence when faced with un-anticipated questions. For example, when he was preparing for his Ph.D. qualifying exam, it was customary to schedule a preliminary meeting with the Advisory Committee to lay out for the candidate what would be expected in the exam. At this preliminary meeting, Ed was startled when the members of the committee began asking the tough questions expected on the qualifying exam itself. Ed recalled that on the very first question, he struggled to come up with a partial answer. Then, having gotten through that, he gained sufficient confidence to formulate a satisfactory answer to the second question and went on to an unqualified 'pass' of the exam! It remains uncertain whether Ed or the committee erred in their expectations for the meeting, but it seems unlikely, considering Ed's personality and character, that he misunderstood what the meeting was about. During his graduate studies at Berkeley, Ed became interested in X-ray diffraction and spent some time at the California Inst. of Technology in Pasadena where X-ray crystallographic studies were well advanced. This introduction proved to be a blessing for many of us who later had the good fortune to work for and with him.

After completing his studies at Berkeley in 1939, he located a temporary position in the Dept. of Chemistry at the U. of Washington in Seattle. Thus began his life's work. The appointment involved aiding Prof. Tarter in his studies on surfactants using classical physical chemical techniques. In view of Ed's interest in X-ray crystallography, he initiated diffraction studies on these compounds. To that end he was able to obtain the basic equipment for the study of single crystals. The equipment, mainly supplied by the California Inst. of Technology, was delivered in the late summer of 1942 and within weeks was producing beautiful rotation photographs of single crystals of long-chain sulfonates, detergents, whose properties were being studied by other means in the department.

Because of the very serious academic disruptions of World War II, the enrollment at the UW had decreased from about 11,000 in 1939 to about 4500 in 1945 at the end of the war. Thus it was that X-ray crystallographic studies could not continue until after the war. At the time, progress in molecular structure determination based on single crystal X-ray diffraction data was extremely slow because of the laborious computations, mainly by gear driven desk calculators. However, the era of electronic computers came to UW and to crystallography there in the early 1950s. The first crystallographic work was done on the accounting machines of the UW administration on a third shift arrangement. Soon after, however, Ed played a key role in acquiring the first electronic computers available to faculty and students at the UW. He was one of six members of a committee appointed by the Graduate School in the autumn of 1953 that arranged for an early IBM machine which became operational April 1, 1955. Then in 1957 it was replaced by the first stored program, drum memory, machine on campus, an IBM 650. This was about 1000 times faster than hand calculations. The IBM 650 was displaced in 1960 by the very large, at the time, IBM709 possessing 0.19 MBytes of memory and a 600 Byte operating system. Ed was active not only in acquiring these machines, but in supporting them from his research funds as each successive generation of machines came on line.

The early structures worked on at the UW were the sodium salts of n-alkane sulfonates and related paraffin-chain structures. During the decade of the 1950s, as more graduate students chose crystallographic problems, Ed's interests turned to the structures of metal complexes. Through the rest of his career, he and his students determined the structures of many organometallic complexes of both practical and theoretical interest. In this work he gave training and guidance to 39 graduate students and a score of post-doctoral students. The training in chemistry and crystallography was above reproach, but there were also great moments in the ethics of science. One memorable occasion was when, just as the UW group had managed to determine it, the structure of a zinc chelate appeared in Acta Crystallographica. At that time the group was in the process of checking a bond lengths and angles program. The bond lengths and angles reported in the paper were very different from those that Ed expected so the structure from the literature was used as a test case for the new program. The student doing the programming reported that something was wrong, he couldn't get the same results as those published. Ed sat down at the desk in his very characteristic way and looked at the results. In what seemed like an instant he said 'They’ve used β* for β.' Then, instead of firing a letter off to the journal, he wrote to the author of the paper, pointing out the error, and suggesting they publish the correction as co-authors. It was a wonderful example of his magnanimous nature.

During most of his career, Ed carried a fairly heavy teaching load. He is remembered by his students as an inspiring lecturer, not only in crystallography, but also in other areas of chemistry as well. At the same time, he assumed rather heavy administrative duties, serving half-time as Assoc. Dean of the Graduate School of the UW from 1960-1969. His lectures, and his method of managing courses were always exceedingly well organized and he knew exactly the right level at which to 'pitch' a course. Therefore, he would go to the junior level physical chemistry class and then move into the Chemistry for Nurses class and get commendation from those disparate groups and then come back to the graduate students and shift attention appropriately. As his Berkeley exam foretold, he had the knowledge and gift to deliver the answers just right. But above all he cared about the training of students and his concern was palpable. For most of his career, Ed Lingafelter was active in the ACA, serving as President in 1974. He served as Co-editor of Acta Cryst., 1975-1981, and on many committees for the Nat'l Science Foundation. He continued to be active in both teaching and research, reaching mandatory retirement in 1984 at the age of 70. Even after retiring, Ed continued in research as co-author on a number of papers and continued to help students and colleagues.

Jim Stewart, Lyle Jensen and Ron Stenkamp

In the memory of Ed and Roberta Lingafelter.


Edward Lingafelter and the late Luigi Sacconi activated, in the years 1964-1972, an outstanding NSF-CNR exchange program that allowed many to have a unique experience. At a time, when foreign research programs for pre-doctoral students were rare, the U. of Washington and U. of Firenze exchanged students each year in chemistry and crystallography. The American fellows had an opportunity to spend one year in Firenze, experiencing the strict rules in the lab of Prof. Sacconi, a world leader in coordination chemistry. At the same time, they enjoyed the glamour of one of the most beautiful cities that suffered, in those years, a dramatic flood.

The Italian post graduate students (there was no Ph.D. program in Italy at that time) had the privilege to spend one year on the beautiful campus of the U. of Washington where they could master the techniques of X-ray crystallography under the expert and paternal guidance of Ed Lingafelter. Structure determination was giving a great impulse to the development of chemistry and they had the feeling of learning something very important. Seminars and group meetings were the occasion to appreciate Ed's charisma as a teacher. On weekends, Ed and Roberta and their five children hosted the students at their cabin in the woods. The long hikes in the Washington trails and the dinners in the house remain unforgettable. They loved to keep in touch with the pupils and their sound friendships have lasted over the years. Our small community shares feelings of indebtedness to Ed and to Roberta and deep sorrow for their simultaneous departure.

Carlo Mealli