by Prof. Andrew Holder, University of Missouri- Kansas City, firstname.lastname@example.org
On October 10, 1997, MJS Dewar died of congestive heart failure in a hospital in Gainesville, Florida. His passing was not difficult.
Thousands of scientists around the world use his methods and ideas in their work. Michael Dewar's contributions to chemistry in general are vast and far-reaching. Some of his more recent contributions include perturbation molecular orbital (PMO) theory, many of the most widely used semiempirical methods in the world (MINDO3, MNDO, AM1 and SAM1), the AMPAC and MOPAC programs, elucidation of reaction mechanisms by application of theoretical methods and other basic contributions in the theory and implementation of semiempirical methodology. I think it fitting that Michael died in early October, when the Nobel Prize recipients are announced. His contributions are certainly worthy of it.
Even more than his direct contributions through his programs and in the chemical literature (over 600 papers), Professor Dewar sparked people to think differently and in unconventional ways. As many of us know, he was involved in many hot controversies, all of which had the result of advancing science. Michael Dewar would not let one just plod along in the same old rut. His sparkling prose and inimitable speaking style challenged audiences and has stimulated discussions for decades. Michael loved a good discussion, often taking an opposite position just to test its intellectual merit.
Why semiempirical methods? Michael was interested in the puzzles of CHEMISTRY, not the methods of solution. Semiempirical methods were simply the most direct route to examining those puzzles. In his time and with the available resources, he developed a set of tools, ways of approaching problems and techniques that virtually redefined the role of theory as an adjunct and informer of experimental methods. Who knows what he would have done today with Palm Pilots containing chips as powerful as many of the machines that the original research was done on?
Professor Dewar left the University of Texas about 1990 and accepted a research professorship at the University of Florida. He worked there on development of the SAM1 method until 1992, when he retired. Michael completely left chemistry when he retired, and enjoyed reading (virtually anything), music, old movies, and Chinese cooking to mention just a few of his many interests. Mary Williamson Dewar, his wife and best friend of over 50 years, passed away in 1994. There was no memorial service for Michael, and his ashes were spread with those of Mary in the Lake District of northern England, where they honeymooned many years ago.
He challenged those of us who had the great fortune to work with him in ways we never imagined. He was a loyal and caring mentor and was always gracious and kind, even in those painful moments when we insisted on learning the "hard way". Not just those of us who knew him, but SCIENCE will miss him. A great man has left us, and we are the poorer for it.
We all hope that he is currently amused.
With this in mind, Semichem, a company marketing and developing semiempirical methods, will provide a seed endowment ($25,000) to be administered by the Computers in Chemistry Division of the American Chemical Society (COMP) to support a continuing symposium series in computational chemistry. Other donors are welcome to enhance this seed gift in support of the symposium.
While it is hoped that Michael Dewar's contributions in semiempirical methods will be recognized by a continuing emphasis for the Symposium on developments and applications in this area, we recognize that science changes. Thus, a topic closely tied to semiempirical methods is not required. The Symposium shall be recognized as the "MJS Dewar Symposium" in the ACS program and appropriate opening remarks shall be made in reference to this support mechanism and the contributions of MJS Dewar to the field of computational chemistry. The symposium will be scheduled regularly as part of COMP's programming and will not occur more frequently than once per year or less frequently than once every three years, assuming sufficient financial resources are available.
The first Symposioum will be organized by Professor Tim Clark and the University of Erlangen and will be held at the Spring 2004 Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, CA.