Childhood & Early Life
Henry Taube was born on 30 November 1915 at Neudorf, Saskatchewan in Canada. His parents, Samuel Taube and Albertina Tiledetzski were farmers. He had three older brothers.
At the age of 12, he shifted to Regina in order to pursue high school education at Luther College. After completing his studies, he began working at the college as laboratory assistant for Paul Liefeld.
He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1935 and completed his Master of Science degree in 1937 from the University of Saskatchewan.
He then joined the University of California at Berkeley and completed his PhD in Chemistry in 1940. His graduate research was on the ‘photodecomposition of chlorine dioxide and hydrogen peroxide in solution’.
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After his education he worked in Berkeley as instructor in chemistry until 1941. Though he applied for work in major universities across Canada, he did not receive positive responses and in 1941 joined Cornell University as assistant professor. He remained there until 1946.
While working at Cornell University he focused on research concerning isotopes. His study showed that in water the ions of metals develop bonds with water molecules thereby producing hydrates or coordination compounds. The geometry and strength of these coordination compounds vary according to the identity and state of oxidation of the ion.
In the presence of specific chemical species like chlorine ions, ammonia etc, analogous coordination compounds when engaged in such reactions form ‘ligands’.
During the World War II, he served at the National Defense Research Committee and later in 1946 joined the University of Chicago as assistant professor. He worked there until 1961 as associate professor and later became a full professor. Between 1956 and 1959, he also headed the Department of Chemistry at the University of Chicago; however, he was not keen on administrative work.
Beginning in 1956, apart from his academic career Henry Taube worked as a consultant at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was associated with the laboratory until the 1970s.
In 1952 he released a paper on his work associating the rate of chemical reactions to electronic structure in the journal, Chemical Reviews. His primary discovery was that rather than a mere exchange of electrons, molecules build a sort of ‘chemical bridge’. He also explained how the process of transfer of electrons in metals is dependent on the structure of the chemical bridge.
He pursued a lifelong interest in studying oxidation-reduction otherwise known as ‘redox’ reactions, in which electrons are gained or lost in a chemical reaction process. His research findings have been utilized in the selection of metallic compounds as catalyst, superconductors and pigments, also in studying the role and uses of metal ions as components in specific enzymes. He conducted his electron transfer studies in elements ruthenium and osmium that have immense capacity for Pi back bonding.
In 1962 he left Chicago to join Stanford University as professor. He worked there until 1986 and became a professor emeritus at the university in the same year. His position at Stanford University allowed him to continue his research work which he continued until 2001.
During the span of his career, he wrote over 600 publications and a book titled ‘Electron transfer reactions of complex ions in solution’ (1970).
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Awards and Achievements
He was a two time recipient of the Guggenheim fellowship, once in 149 and the next in 1955.
In 1955 he was awarded the American Chemical Society Award for Nuclear Applications in Chemistry.
The Harrison Howe Award, Rochester Section by American Chemical Society was bestowed upon him in 1960.
He was the recipient of the 1964 Chandler Medal by Columbia University.
In 1966 the John Gamble Kirkwood Award, New Haven Section, American Chemical Society was awarded to Henry Taube.
The ACS Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry was awarded to him in 1967.
In 1971 he was awarded the Nichols Medal, New York, ACS as well as the Willard Gibbs Medal, Chicago Section, ACS.
The University of New South Wales, Australia, awarded him with the F.P. Dwyer Medal in 1973.
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In 1977 he was awarded the National Medal of Science.
He was the recipient of the Allied Chemical Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching & Innovative Science in 1979.
In 1980 the T.W. Richards Medal of the Northeastern Section, ACS was awarded to him.
The ACS Award in Inorganic Chemistry of the Monsanto Company and The Linus Pauling Award, Puget Sound Section, ACS were awarded to him in 1981.
In 1983, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Other awards he received the same year include National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences, Bailar Medal from the University of Illinois and the Robert A. Welch Foundation Award in Chemistry.
In 1985 he received the Priestley Medal from the ACS.
The International Precious Metals Institute awarded him with Distinguished Achievement Award in 1986.
He was the recipient of the Oesper Award by the Cincinnati Section of the American Chemical in 1986.
In 1990 he received the G. M. Kosolapoff Award, Auburn Section- ACS.
He received honorary degrees from numerous universities - Honorary Doctorate from University of Saskatchewan, Ph. D. Honoris Causa of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Honorary Doctor of Science from the universities like University of Chicago, Polytechnic Institute, New York, State University of New York, University of Guelph, Seton Hall University, University of Debrecen in Hungary and Northwestern University.
He was a member of numerous reputed professional societies that include American Chemical Society, American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Royal Society as Foreign member, Australian Academy of Science as Corresponding member, Royal Danish Academy of Sciences & Letters, American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences.
Personal Life & Legacy
Henry Taube became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1942.
He married Mary Alice Wesche in 1952 and the couple had three children named Karl Andreas Taube (born in 1957) who grew up to become an anthropologist, Heinrich Taube who later became a music professor and Linda Taube who became a mohair retailer. His stepdaughter Marianna Taube, who was a teacher, died of cancer in 1998.
His hobbies included classical music primarily opera and gardening.
On 16 November 2005, he died in his home at Palo Alto, California. He was 89 years old at the time of his death.