ma Eyring Memoir

ma Eyring Memoir - Courtesy of the University of Utah HENRY...

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47 HENRY EYRING February 20, 1901–December 26, 1981 BY WALTER KAUZMANN H ENRY EYRING WAS FORTUNATE in entering the arena of chem- ical physics at the time that quantum mechanics be- gan impinging on the fundamental problems of chemistry. He was also fortunate in possessing to an unusual degree a fertile imagination, unbounded curiosity, a warm and out- going personality, a high degree of intellectual talent, the ability to work hard, and a determination to succeed. The result was that, beginning in the early years of the 1930s, he exerted an important influence on the large numbers of students and colleagues lucky enough to come into contact with him. This influence continued to spread throughout the chemical community for the rest of his life. He broke new ground in a wide sweep of scientific activi- ties, involving matters that ranged from fundamental prin- ciples of chemistry to problems of a highly practical and applied nature. Some of his ideas contain elements that remain controversial and a considerable number of con- temporary scientists continue to work on them. Eyring was born in 1901 in the prosperous Mormon com- munity of Colonia Juarez, Mexico (about 100 miles south of Columbus, New Mexico). He was a third generation Mor- mon, his grandparents on both sides having participated in
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48 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS the early migration (1850-60), first to Salt Lake City and then to outlying communities. The move to Mexico by his grandparents took place in the late 1880s following the admission of Utah to the United States and the consequent persecution of those Mormons who refused to accommo- date to the new state of affairs. Henry was born and raised as a Mormon and he remained a devoted follower of that faith throughout his life. Henry’s father was a successful cattle rancher and Henry was riding “as soon as my legs were long enough to straddle a horse.” But the beginning of the Mexican revolution in 1910 destabilized the political situation to such an extent that 4,800 of the colonists migrated to El Paso, Texas, in mid-July 1912. They left behind them essentially all that they owned, expecting that conditions would return to nor- mal. This did not happen; they spent a year of penury in El Paso. After another year struggling to make ends meet in small towns in Arizona Henry’s father purchased a small farm near Pima. Hard work by all members of the family was required to clear the land, but in a few years they be- gan to get back on their feet again. Henry had finished the fifth grade by the time he left Mexico. A year of schooling was missed in El Paso, but he was able to skip several grades and graduate from eighth grade at Pima in 1914. He then attended Gila Academy, a church school near Pima, graduating in 1919. He did espe- cially well in mathematics and science and was encouraged by one of his teachers to go into engineering at the Univer- sity of Arizona. Winning a state fellowship there, he de-
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ma Eyring Memoir - Courtesy of the University of Utah HENRY...

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