30 No. 1
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In Memoriam: The Oldest Active Chemist Dies at the Age of Nearly One Hundred
Ali Rıza Berkem, born in 1908 in Izmir, Turkey, died on 22 May 2007. He was the head of the Turkish Chemistry Association (Türkiye Kimya Dernegi), one of the National Adhering Organizations of IUPAC.
Following high school, Berkem was one of the young Turks selected after an examination to continue their educations in a European university, mostly in Germany, France, or England. Berkem studied chemistry at Montpellier University (1928–1932), graduated as a laureate student, and received the Coulouma prize. This was the first time such an honor was given to a foreigner by the university. He returned from France to Izmir to teach chemistry at his old high school.
In 1933, the young Turkish Republic decided to reform the university system. To bring modern methods and teaching systems to Turkey, the time was ripe to invite uneasy Jewish-German professors to Turkey, pay them quite good salaries, and give them a free hand to bring a rather quick change in the university system. At the same time, young Turkish scientists were divided among various faculties according to the fields in which they were educated in Europe.
Prof. Valensi became the physical chemistry professor and Berkem was given to his lab as an assistant. After getting his doctorate degree in France in 1938, Berkem came back to the same institute, and this time became head of the department. He formed the nucleus of the Physical Chemistry department in the Faculty of Sciences, publishing 30 scientific books and a large number of research papers. He could often be found in the lab with his graduate students.
After the war, new universities were founded in various cities. Berkem was always ready to work, advise, take part, and give lectures until these institutions had enough faculty members. Berkem was also a visiting scholar at European and American universities, including Oregon University and Oak Ridge Nuclear Center in 1956. In 1950, after becoming a full professor, he was elected as the Dean of the Faculty for two terms. After that he was elected to the University Senate as the representative of the Faculty of Sciences. He was honored many times by his colleagues and by various institutions. He was given the title “ombudsman” by the Turkish Chemical Society with the approval of every single member.
Anatolian University, now the biggest in Turkey gave him an honorary doctorate and in 2002 the Science and Technology Institute of Turkey gave him an honorary membership. He also received honorary memberships from the Société de Chimie Industrielle of France and the Turkish Society of Chemical Industry.
Berkem married a biochemist who was his student once, and together they had three daughters.
In addition to his scientific books and articles Berkem had many semi-scientific articles in popular science journals and social articles in daily newspapers. He never retired, working enthusiastically until the very last few weeks when he died from kidney failure. He always had goals to be achieved, dreams to be realized, and expectations to make life more meaningful and memorable. He was kind, understanding, tolerent, optimistic, and a determined person. His heart was full of love not only for his family and his students, but also for mankind.
Submitted by Prof. Ayhan Ulubelen, faculty member at the University of Istanbul, Turkey, and titular member of Chemrawn.
last modified 15 January 2008.
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