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February 9, 2018

Obituary: Theodore ‘Ted’ Cohen

Theodore “Ted” Cohen, credited by colleagues with fostering Pitt’s modern Department of Chemistry, died Dec. 13, 2017.

When Cohen retired in 1999 at age 70, becoming professor emeritus after serving in his department since 1956, he continued to spend 80 hours a week in his laboratory. “We hardly noticed when he retired,” said Dennis P. Curran, Distinguished Service Professor and Bayer Professor of Chemistry. “He just loved chemistry and he was incredibly important to the evolution of the whole department. He had a very good eye for talent.”

Curran noted Cohen’s enduring contributions to organic chemistry, discovering several new processes in the synthesis of organic molecules, including one that is now included in freshman chemistry textbooks.

“He was good at getting people excited about their research,” Curran added. “Ted had a kind of infectious enthusiasm. He was really just good at teaching them what their results mean and how to write a thesis. These are things you don’t learn in a classroom.”

Sunil Saxena, chair of the department, noted that Cohen was one of the first chemistry faculty members to receive federal grants and money to support critical instrumentation for organic chemistry. “That sparked the creation of the really fine tradition of organic chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh,” Saxena said.

Cohen received the Pittsburgh Award from the American Chemical Society in 2009. He was a Fulbright grantee (1955-56) and received the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Research in 1992. Through the years, he presented hundreds of lectures at universities, research institutes and meetings around the world and mentored numerous students.

Michele Monaco recalled Cohen interviewing her for the job as his assistant, which she held for a decade, before moving to the department chair’s office. Cohen insisted on having lunch instead of conducting a formal interview. “He was kind, and it just felt right,” Monaco said. She recalled with fondness Cohen’s attention to his classroom teaching duties. He also taught her a great deal, she said, from basic computer skills to the use of ChemDraw to render chemical structures for his teaching materials.

Born May 11, 1929, Cohen received his undergraduate degree from Tufts University in 1951 and Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in 1955.

He is survived by his wife, Pearl; children Rima and Bret; and two granddaughters.

A 2006 University Times profile of his life and career can be found here.


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