Leroy E. Alexander (1910-2004)


In June, L.E.Alexander passed away in his 94th year.  Leroy retired in 1976 from the Mellon Institute of Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as Professor of Chemistry and Senior Fellow.  To obtain his academic education he had a difficult road to follow. After high school he obtained his teacher’s certificate and was teaching in one-room rural schools by the age of eighteen. By alternating teaching and college studies, he was able to earn a bachelor’s degree at the State Teacher’s College in River Falls, Wisconsin in 1937.  During his teaching years, he organized a school band and taught the students how to play all the instruments.  He supported himself during graduate school by playing clarinet and saxophone in dance bands, and was awarded a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1943.  After working at the General Electric Laboratories in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Leroy was offered a position in the Department of Chemical Physics at the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research in Pittsburgh. He headed up the x-ray diffraction section and became an authority in this field. Together with Harold P. Klug he wrote the classic “X-ray Diffraction Procedures” (Wiley, 1954). This book can still be found in many x-ray diffraction laboratories throughout the world, because it is written in a clear and instructive way.  With Gordon S. Smith, he published a number of influential papers on the geometry of single-crystal x-ray diffractometry.  His second book “X-ray Diffraction Methods in Polymer Science” (Wiley, 1969) was also a success, and for quite some years was the only book on this subject.  He was ACA secretary 1958 to1960.


In the early sixties Leroy was on sabbatical at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, where he worked with his long time friend the late Peter de Wolff.  While at Delft he collected material for his book on diffraction methods in polymer science.  Those fifteen months in the Netherlands were a wonderful time for the Alexanders. While he was working on his second book, Leroy started a project to study chain folding in polymers, in particular of polyamides.  This subject was a source of controversy and played an important role in the phenomenological description of the deformation of polymers.  The study resulted in a series of papers on the structural determination of nylon cyclic oligomers.  Together with Roger Pettersen and Earl Baker he worked on the synthesis and the structures of chlorophyll-related compounds.


With his great knowledge of x-ray diffraction and talent for writing well-styled and clearly formulated texts, he was a source of inspiration for all those who had the privilege to work with him.  Leroy was a great friend and colleague to many people from different countries and backgrounds. He had a broad range of interests; playing music was one of his greatest pleasures. He was an optimistic and religious man, respected as well as admired by those who knew him. In his work he was strongly supported by his beloved wife Eleanor, who for many years transcribed books into braille.  She died several years ago.  Leroy is survived by his daughters Kathryn and Karen and two grandchildren.


                                                                        Morits Northolt

                                                                        (from the ACA Newsletter, Winter 2004)




X-ray crystallographers at the Mellon Institute, 1966

Front, from left: Harold Klug, Leroy Alexander.

Behind, from left: Wayne Orr, Bob Stewart, Sid Pollack, Maurits Nothold, Maureen Sullivan.

Absent: Gordon Smith, Roger Pettersen, Gardner Sumner, Patricia Brown, John Beres.

Note: The biologist Roy Worthington had a separate small-angle X-ray facility.



Leroy Alexander and the Pittsburgh Diffraction Conference.


Leroy Alexander joined the staff of the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh in January 1946. His involvement with the Pittsburgh Diffraction Conference began with the fourth Conference which was held in December, 1946.  Thereafter, he was active in the affairs of this annual Conference until his retirement from the Mellon Institute of Carnegie-Mellon University in 1976.  Throughout these thirty years he took part in the Conference in two different ways. First he became a regular among the Conference organizers. Second, he joined in the presentation of research that came from a growing X-ray group at the Mellon Institute of whom Harold Klug and Leroy Alexander were the leaders.


Now that the Pittsburgh Diffraction Conference is in its 63rd year, with a history older than that of the ACA, it is important to recognize the work of Leroy Alexander in gathering and preserving records that go back continuously to the first Pittsburgh Diffraction Conference. This took place at the University of Pittsburgh in 1943 (during the siege of Leningrad; now St Petersburg).  Leroy made use of his archival material in his account of “Surhain Sidhu and the Early Pittsburgh Diffraction Conferences which appears in abbreviated form in the ACA Newsletter, December 1992.  Leroy includes his own stories of those early years. His article points out that the early Pittsburgh Diffraction Conferences drew an audience of hundreds and were attended by leading figures including Sir Lawrence Bragg, Isadore Fankuchen, Charles Barrett and David Harker.


                                                                                    Bryan Craven and Robert Stewart