Robert H. Blessing (1941–2023)

Tim Bohen
Bob Blessing alongside a Cα trace of the T6 bovine insulin hexamer [Smith, Pangborn & Blessing (2005). Acta Cryst. D61, 1476–1482].

Robert (Bob) Harry Blessing, a chemistry professor at the University at Buffalo (UB), NY, USA, and an emeritus senior research scientist at Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (HWI), died on 30 October 2023 at the age of 82. Considered a leader in the field of high-resolution experimental crystallography for electron density modeling, he collaborated on numerous research papers and spoke at many national and international conferences.

Born in Wilkes-Barre, PA, he graduated in 1962 from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre. After completing a PhD in inorganic and physical chemistry at Ohio University in 1970, he held postdoctoral positions at the University of Lund, Sweden; the University of Pittsburgh; and UB. After four years as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA, he moved to Buffalo in 1978 to become a Research Scientist at HWI, formerly the Medical Foundation of Buffalo. There, he worked with emeritus researcher Dr G. David Smith on the crystal structure of insulin. He also developed algorithms and software for crystallographic data reduction and error analysis that are widely used in laboratories worldwide. He co-authored publications with Smith and 1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Herbert Hauptman.

[Fig. 1]In good voice. From left to right, Wilson Greatbatch, Herbert Hauptman, Bob Blessing and Lodovico Riva di Sanseverino sing at the 75th birthday celebration for Nobel laureates Herbert Hauptman and Jerome Karle in Buffalo in 1992. Photo contributed to the IUCr gallery by W. L. Duax.

Dr Blessing continued his work at HWI after he was appointed an Associate Professor of Chemistry at UB in 1991. He was promoted to Full Professor in 2001, and during that same year helped design the graduate studies program for the Department of Structural Biology in UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He later served as the Department’s Director of Graduate Studies and Chair.

On four occasions, he was a visiting professor in the crystallography laboratory at the Université Henri Poincaré, now Université de Lorraine, in Nancy, France, where he had a long collaboration with Claude Lecomte, Professor of Crystallography and Physics.

He was President of the Pittsburgh Diffraction Society and an active member of the American Crystallographic Association.

[Fig. 2]From left to right, Akihito Yamono, Tony Linden, Bob Blessing, Ludger Häming, Ton Spek, David Watkin and Larry Falvello, speakers at the Microsymposium on Absorption Corrections at the 18th IUCr Congress in Glasgow, UK, in 1999.

Dr Blessing is survived by his wife of 61 years, Barbara Ann; a daughter, Kimberly Blessing, a philosophy professor at Buffalo State University, and son-in-law, Tim Bohen; and two grandsons. Another daughter, Kirsten Blessing-Hanagan, a nurse in the neo-natal intensive care unit at the former Women and Children’s Hospital, died in 2006.

For a list of papers by Dr Blessing appearing in IUCr journals click here.

13 December 2023

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