Austin Levy Wahrhaftig was born May 5, 1917 in Sacramento, California to Moses S. Wahrhaftig and Irma Ruth Levy.
Married Ruby Dixon Elledge in Salt Lake City on August 24, 1957. Died November 11, 1997 in Salt Lake City at the age of 80 after years of rheumatoid arthritis. Remissions from time to time enabled him to enjoy skiing, mountain hiking, some river running, and traveling in the U.S. and abroad. Austin was a first-generation American on his paternal side, and attended primary and secondary schools in Sacramento. After two years at Sacramento Junior College, he earned his A.B. in chemistry, with great distinction, from the University of California, Berkeley (1938). At Berkeley he performed undergraduate research with Professor J.H. Hildebrand on the measurement of heat capacities and heats of fusion by the method of mixtures. In 1941, Austin earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. At Caltech, he conducted research under the direction of Professor R. M. Badger in the field of molecular spectroscopy on hydrogen fluoride and on chlorine fluoride, and under the direction of Professor V. Schomaker on an electron diffraction study of chlorine fluoride and chlorine trifluoride. The major part of his Ph.D. dissertation was on the absorption spectrum of chlorine fluoride. From 1941-45, Austin was a Research Fellow at Caltech on various war projects, working at different times under Professors R.M. Badger, J.H. Sturdivant, Linus Pauling, and R.B. Corey. The experience he obtained during these years was exceedingly varied, involving instrument design and construction, electronics, photography, engineering, and a wide assortment of minor applications of physical chemistry and mathematics. He followed that with a year of study with Dr. W. Ewart Williams (Pasadena) in research and development on evaporated coatings, electronic equipment, and interferometric devices. Austin next was University Fellow at the Ohio State University under the guidance of Professor H.L. Johnston.In 1947, he joined the faculty of the Chemistry Department at the University of Utah as Assistant Professor, where he rose through the ranks until retiring after 40 years of service as Professor in 1987. For the last ten years he held the rank of Professor Emeritus and remained an interested, valued colleague. From 1966 through 1970, he served as Associate Chairman of the Chemistry Department. In 1972 and again in 1980, Austin was Visiting Professor at LaTrobe University in Melbourne, Australia. He was best known for his pioneering work developing quasi-equilibrium theory of fragmentation patterns in polyatomic molecule mass spectrometry and for innovative developments in mass spectrometry instrumentation. Member of Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Mu Epsilon, Sigma Xi, the American Chemical Society (honored at a 1996 award ceremony for his 50-year membership), the American Physical Society, ASTM Committee E-14 on Mass Spectrometry (Executive Committee Member, 1962-64), the American Society for Mass Spectrometry (Board of Directors, 1970-72), and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Austin was a long-time, active member in the Wasatch Mountain Club (serving at times as lodge director, treasurer, and editor) and helped initiate the club's conservation efforts. He was very concerned about the effects of overpopulation and pollution on the physical condition of our planet as well as on humans and other species. In his fifty years of association with the Chemistry Department and the University of Utah, Austin rendered invaluable service in teaching at all levels, in shouldering major committee and citizenship duties within the academic community, and in enriching his colleagues through stimulating intellectual and personal interactions. He was greatly instrumental in the establishment of the department's machine shop as well as the design and construction of the present Chemistry buildings on campus. Departmental faculty, staff and friends expressed their heartfelt thanks for this work upon the opening of the newest (south) wing in 1986 with a plaque, permanently on display, acknowledging his successful efforts over 20 plus years to secure state-of-the-art facilities for teaching and research.
Austin is survived by his wife, Ruby, and her many relatives, and by his seven cousins.
A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, November 18, in the Dumke Reception Room of the Alumni House on the University of Utah campus.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the Austin Wahrhaftig Memorial Fund at the U. of U. Chemistry Department, or to a charity of your choice.
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