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
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
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
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
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.
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
Absent: Gordon Smith, Roger Pettersen, Gardner
Sumner, Patricia Brown, John Beres.
Note: The biologist Roy Worthington had a separate
small-angle X-ray facility.
and the Pittsburgh
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