Rollie John Myers

March 11, 2020

Rollie John Myers

By David E. Wemmer

Professor Rollie John Myers Jr. was born on July 15, 1924, in Hastings, Nebraska, where his father was also born, and passed away on September 12, 2016, at age 92. His family prospered in Nebraska, thanks to automobiles requiring parts and the development of radio. In 1932 his father sold his business and moved to South Pasadena, California, very close to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Rollie graduated from high school there in 1941 as a star chemistry student, and was hired by Caltech for the summer to wash dishes, pick flowers, and slake lime for absorbent for Lazlo Zechmeister, one of the pioneers in liquid chromatography. Myers subsequently went to Pasadena Junior College for one year, then transfered to Caltech in September 1942. Linus Pauling was one of his first-year teachers, but his major attachment was to Ernest Swift who taught a famously tough second-year analytical chemistry course then required of all Caltech students.

With the U.S. entry into World War II, Myers entered the U.S. Navy, enrolling in 1944, and after basic training he went into the Electronics Training Program to train Navy electronics technicians, finishing in fall 1945. He was picked to stay on and teach about microwaves and Mark IV Radar, and was discharged in early June 1946, which allowed him to return to Caltech for the final wartime semester and his junior year. Myers’ first Caltech publication was with a fellow undergraduate, making very precise weight titrations to confirm a method developed by Swift to standardize permanganate solutions, a paper that appeared in 1944 while he was in the Navy. Subsequent work on electrolytic analysis, and extraction of ferric ions with ethers, led to a master’s thesis in 1948.

Myers then moved to Berkeley in fall of 1948 and began working toward a Ph.D. with Professor William D. Gwinn doing microwave spectroscopy. He built a new and improved microwave spectrometer, and analyzed ethylene oxide, then methylene chloride, filing his dissertation in June 1951. At this point he was hired as an instructor, and worked on pentaborane – a compound being studied by George Pimentel as well. Myers continued his work in microwave spectroscopy, studying a variety of small molecules with methyl groups and made excellent progress in understanding their spectra and interpreting their structures, yielding several more publications.

Rollie John Myers Portrait

In 1957 Myers was advanced to associate professor, and assigned his first graduate student. They worked on several sulfur-containing compounds, further methyl-containing molecules, as well as some with chlorine and fluorine, all using microwave spectroscopy. During this period compounds were studied that created radicals, and Myers entered the field of electron paramagnetic resonance, which also used microwave technology. Molecules and reactions producing radicals were studied for some time, but interest gradually shifted to biological molecules and metals. Myers then extended into nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) studies of cadmium, as a substitute for zinc. Myers also returned to studies of small molecules, determining dissociation constants for sulfides, tellurides, and hydrogen peroxide. In total Myers published about 55 papers during his career, and with Bruce Mahan a revision of University Chemistry  a freshman chemistry text — that continued use long after Mahan passed away.

In addition to research and teaching, Myers served as assistant dean for three deans of the College of Chemistry. An important accomplishment in that role was establishing a college NMR facility, now a critical analytical resource. He also served for many years on a joint state committee (University of California, California State University, and community colleges) to develop math skill assessments.

Rollie will be remembered for his wit, intelligence, generosity, and humorous nature. He took great pleasure in research, teaching, and in his relationships with his students and associates.

James Scott posted a comment on Myers’ online obituary page: “Rollie was the grad student advisor when I started as a Chemistry grad student in 1966. I will always remember his help and advice during my time there. When I last saw him, about 5 years ago, on the sidewalk outside Pastime Hardware, he remembered me! He still had his same sense of humor as when we were at UC together.”

Rollie J. Myers was predeceased by his wife, Dr. Sylvia Harcstark Myers. He is survived by his daughter Adele Myers, son Keith Myers and his wife Mary, and grandsons Kiwani Murphy and Miguel Jeffrey, for whom Rollie was a wonderful father and grandfather. His laughter and wonderful spirit are greatly missed.