University of Rochester

Scientist Who Helped Shape Chemistry Department Dies

July 30, 1999

A former chair of the University of Rochester's Department of Chemistry, Dean Stanley Tarbell, 86, died May 26 at his home in Bolingbrook, Ill.

Tarbell's career coincided with the "instrumental revolution," a time when new scientific instruments, such as the infrared spectrometer, changed the laboratory and the nature of research. The sophisticated equipment sped up experiments and extended the scope of science. As a result, Tarbell saw the University's chemistry department mature dramatically during his nearly 30-year tenure.

Tarbell, known informally as "Stan," was born in Hancock, N.H. He joined the University in 1938 as an organic chemist after graduating from Harvard University and completing a year of postdoctoral work at the University of Illinois. During World War II, he conducted research on the detection of chemical warfare agents and the synthesis of anti-malarial drugs for the National Defense Research Committee and the Committee on Medical Research. After the war, he helped design a new research laboratory to accommodate the influx of veterans attending school, and ran the chemistry department's graduate research program.

A planning committee he chaired in 1963 guided the department into the future with recommendations for recruiting faculty and increasing the numbers of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Tarbell, who served as department chair from 1964 to 1966, championed the inclusion of new fields of research, such as inorganic and biophysical chemistry, and helped the department earn an international reputation for excellence. In 1967 he left the University to accept a position as distinguished professor at Vanderbilt University, from which he retired in 1981 as professor emeritus.

"Stan put organic chemistry on the right track," says Jack Kampmeier, professor of chemistry, who knew Tarbell well as a friend and colleague. "He was an outstanding leader with an encyclopedic knowledge of organic chemistry and a contagious enthusiasm for research. Stan's personality and vision played an essential role in shaping the modern chemistry department at Rochester."

During his career, Tarbell wrote more than 200 research papers on the structure of biologically active molecules including colchicine and fumagillin, sulfur chemistry, reaction mechanisms, and carcinogenesis. In recognition of his research, Tarbell was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1959.

Tarbell and his wife Ann wrote two books on the history of chemistry--Roger Adams : Scientist and Statesman (1981) and Essays on the History of Organic Chemistry in the United States, 1875-1955 (1986)--which earned him the American Chemical Society's Dexter Award in 1989.

"He had a lot of interests," Kampmeier said. "Stan's the only person I ever knew who taught himself Arabic, Italian and classical Greek. He learned Italian so he could read Dante in the original. He was passionate about learning and he loved books, but he also enjoyed music and sports, especially baseball. As a teenager, Stan saw Babe Ruth pitch in Boston. That made a big impression on him, as you might imagine."

Tarbell is survived by sons William Tarbell of Bolingbrook, Ill., and Ted Tarbell of Los Altos, Calif.; daughter Linda Neumann of Rehovot, Israel; sister Elva Procopio of Haines City, Fla.; and several grandchildren.