Richard Bersohn

Columbia University

May 13, 1925 - November 18, 2003

Scientific Discipline: Chemistry
Membership Type:
Member (elected 1985)

Richard Bersohn enjoyed a distinguished physical-chemistry career—first as a theoretician and later as an experimentalist who designed simple, elegant, and important experiments to probe the photophysical and photochemical properties of molecules. His publications covered a wide range of subjects, from quantum electrodynamics to applied biochemistry. Bersohn’s colleagues in the Columbia University chemistry department, where he was based for more than 40 years, remember him as an esteemed colleague who enriched the department not only through his fruitful research projects but also by almost single-handedly building its physical-chemistry component into one of the strongest in the country.

Bersohn graduated from M.I.T. with a B.S. in chemistry in 1944, at the height of World War II. He then entered the U.S. Army and was assigned to the Manhattan Project—the atomic-bomb development effort—at what is now the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Upon completion of his military service in 1946, he enrolled in the chemical-physics graduate program at Harvard University and received his Ph.D. in 1949. Bersohn then taught in the Cornell University chemistry department for almost a decade, and in 1959 joined Columbia University’s chemistry department, where he worked productively for the rest of his career—with particular distinction in chemical-reaction dynamics and biophysics—often in collaboration with other physical chemists not only at Columbia but from around the country and the world. He had an especially close and long-lived set of relationships with researchers at Israel’s leading scientific institutions.

A wise and gentle man of the highest personal integrity, Bersohn was loved by virtually all who came to know him.

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