In memoriam: Andrew Streitwieser

Portrait of Andrew Streitwieser in his office, circa 1980s. (Photo Dennis Galloway)

by Douglas Clark and Robert Bergman

Andy Streitwieser, beloved colleague and professor emeritus of chemistry, passed away on February 23, 2022 at the age of 94.

Andy was born in Buffalo, New York in 1927. He attended Columbia College and then Columbia University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1952 under the direction of William von Eggers Doering. He was a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of John D. Roberts at MIT. In 1952 he joined Berkeley as an instructor and then rose through the ranks to become a professor of chemistry. Andy retired in 1993 but remained active in the department as a professor of the graduate school.

Andy was a major figure in the field of physical organic chemistry and was one of the earliest contributors to apply the concepts of physical and theoretical chemistry to organic chemistry. A notable area of study of his involved the inspection of organic compound intermediates called carbocations, or “short-lived” compounds that would form as a result of organic reactions. His textbook on Solvolytic Displacement Reactions was purchased and read by most organic chemists with an interest in mechanisms, and his book on Molecular Orbital Theory for Organic Chemists brought understanding and utility to a wide range of workers in the field. Another major contribution was his understanding and application of kinetic isotope effects to the study of reaction mechanisms, which made him a leader in that area of physical organic chemistry as well.

A major achievement of Andy’s was the theoretical prediction, followed by the synthesis, of uranocene, a compound formed by combining two organic molecules (cyclic ring compounds called cyclooctatetraene) and uranium. “He was working at a time when most organic chemists were focused almost exclusively on organic compounds,” comments Robert Bergman, Gerald E. K. Branch distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemistry. “There was little attention given by organic chemists to compounds with metals in them. Andy bridged that gap in a very interesting way.” For his numerous original contributions to the field, he was honored with the ACS Award in Petroleum Chemistry (1967), the Alexander von Humboldt Medal (1979), the ACS James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry (1982), the ACS Cope Scholar Award (1989), the Berkeley Citation (1993), and the ACS Roger Adams Award in Organic Chemistry in 2009, among many other awards. In addition, he was a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1969) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1977), and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1978).

He had many interests outside of chemistry. He loved music, regularly attending the San Francisco Opera, and traveled around the globe for Wagner’s Ring Cycle. As an avid nature photographer with a particular interest in solar eclipses, Andy was a longtime member of the Berkeley Camera Club.

Clayton Heathcock and Andrew Streitwieser fly fishing at the Streitwieser summer home. They had returned from the Snake River and Sue Streitwieser had made the ice cream cones. (1970). Photo Sue Streitwieser. 

He was a fly-fishing enthusiast, unstoppable punster, and a favorite tablemate at the Berkeley Breakfast Club. He loved art, football (especially the 49ers), books, a great meal, laughter, and spirited discussion. He especially enjoyed wine and was a longtime member of several East Bay wine tasting groups.

Andy is survived by his two children David and Susan (Anders) and their families.