Remembering Hans Reich (Ph.D. 1968, Cram)

Committed to students, colleagues and science, Reich leaves lasting legacy

By Aadhishre Kasat
Department Communications & Student Researcher (Buller)

Woman with striped shirt next to man
Ieva and Hans Reich

Everyone who knew Hans Reich knew of his love for the chemistry department. For 43 years of his life, Reich distinguished himself as an exceptional professor, a passionate scientist, and above all, an inspiring colleague. He died May 1, 2020, at age 76, from an injury sustained in a bicycle accident.

“Hans was very committed to science, his students, and education,” said Prof. Sam Gellman. “His selflessness is what distinguished him from many others of his caliber and ambition.”

Reich joined the chemistry department as an assistant professor in 1970. Soon after his arrival, he established what became a globally renowned research program in physical organic chemistry. The students he interacted with considered him a remarkable mentor.

Reich met his wife, Ieva, while they were both working on their doctoral degrees in organic chemistry at UCLA. Ieva was very active in departmental life, serving as a senior lecturer for twenty years. “Of course, Hans was very proud of his research, but he took most pride in the accomplishments of his graduate and undergraduate students,” she said. “He maintained connections with them even after their graduation and continued to be a pillar of support and encouragement in their lives.”

Reich’s research efforts were directed toward the study of organometallic and organometalloid compounds. Through his extensive study, he deepened the understanding of these materials and broadened and improved their chemistry. For his work, the American Chemical Society honored him with the James Flack Norris Award in Physical-Organic Chemistry in 2012.

“There are many moments when I drew inspiration from Hans and his work; he was such a deep thinker and always dealt with situations so calmly,” Gellman explained. “Every Wednesday, we would have joint group meetings. Sitting there, listening to him ask the most perceptive and critical questions, I would think to myself that I am so lucky to have one of the greatest minds in chemistry look so closely at all the research being conducted in my lab.”

Across the department, Reich was respected for his acumen and guidance. Ieva said, “Hans loved everyone in the department, and everyone loved him, which is why his roles as the associate chair of the chemistry department and chair of the organic chemistry division were very fitting.”

According to Ieva, his most significant accomplishment is his website. She said, “Hans was an international superstar for his webpages. He worked on them till his very last day. All the resources he has compiled over the years have helped organic chemistry students and scientists all across the world. After his passing, I received several emails from people who used his webpages; people he had never known or met.”

“My first interaction with Hans took place much earlier,” Gellman said. “On my first day of graduate school at Columbia, I was assigned a desk, and right above it was a table of pKa values. I stared at that table for all four years of graduate school, but it wasn’t until I came to UW that I realized it was Hans’s table of pKa values. He diligently worked on updating these numbers on his website, and scientists and students all across the world have used them and will continue to use them.”

Reich lived a full life. He was an invaluable member of the chemistry department and will be remembered for his friendly smile and contagious passion.