Former campus administrator, chemist Robert Connick passes away at 97

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Robert Connick, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of chemistry known for his contributions to the areas of inorganic reaction kinetics and mechanisms, passed away Aug. 21 at his home in Kensington, California. He was 97.

Connick conducted research in inorganic chemistry and began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1943. In 1974, he became a principal investigator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and retired in 1988.He is most known for his research of nuclear magnetic resonance methods to determine water-exchange reactions, according to his daughter, Sarah Connick.

The Berkeley native also served as the chair and dean of the campus College of Chemistry and was a vice chancellor. Connick was also the chair of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate, as well as the UC-wide senate, among other accomplishments.

Both Sarah Connick and Rollie Myers, campus professor emeritus of chemistry, described Connick as respected. In 1971, Connick received the Berkeley Citation, which is given to people or organizations exceeding standards of excellence in their fields. He was also awarded the Berkeley Medal in 1988, which is the campus’s top honor.

According to Myers, Connick worked remotely from campus on the Manhattan Project, which researched and developed the first atomic bombs. He studied the chemistry of plutonium and devised separation techniques in his research for the project, according to a press release.

Campus professor emeritus of chemistry Andrew Streitwieser said Connick had good judgment and was very trustworthy. Myers said Connick was a “pleasant fellow” who was very easy to get along with and emphasized Connick’s long-term connection to UC Berkeley, where he received his bachelor’s degree and doctorate and later became a full professor and administrator.

“Connick was a banker’s son, and banker’s sons can be very like bankers: straightforward, honest and not predictable but dependable,” Myers said.

Connick was married to his wife Frances, who received her doctorate from the College of Chemistry in 1947, for nearly 60 years until she passed away in 2009.

His daughter said Connick was “intensely curious about everything around him.” He and his wife traveled together to every continent except Antarctica and enjoyed documenting and analyzing petroglyphs, which are historic rock engravings.

James Tong, professor emeritus of chemistry at Ohio University, graduated from UC Berkeley in 1950 and conducted research with Connick in his senior year. Tong recently opened the Robert E. Connick Undergraduate Scholarship Endowment, which will award scholarships to high-achieving undergraduate students in the campus department of chemistry.

Connick is survived by his six children, in addition to his nine grandchildren.

Contact Sophie Mattson at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @MattsonSophie.