Department of Chemistry


The Officers and Members of the Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry, American Chemical Society, note with sorrow the passing of our distinguished colleague and friend Arthur W. Adamson, on July 22, 2003.
Arthur Adamson was born to American parents in Shanghai, China on August 15, 1919. He received a B.S. with honors from the University of California, Berkeley in 1940 and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1944. After a two-year stint as Research Associate for the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, TN he began a career at the University of Southern California that extended through his appointment as Professor Emeritus in 1989. He was Chair of the USC Department of Chemistry from 1972 - 75.
Art Adamson’s introduction to surface chemistry came when he was a graduate student at the University of Chicago where he worked with William D. Harkins and George E. Boyd. His first surface chemistry paper was published in 1944 and was titled, Ion Exchange and the Theory of Chromatography. Review of his publications shows most significant contributions to physical adsorption and contact angle phenomena, the thermodynamics of surfaces and finally, irreversible adsorption. He was recipient of the ACS Award in Colloid or Surface Chemistry in 1979. The title of his lecture was, The Nature of the Solid-Gas and Related Solid-Liquid Interface. It is interesting that he was recipient of a second major ACS Award, for his contributions to inorganic photochemistry, only three years later.
Adamson received many honors. He was Unilever Professor at the University of Bristol, England in 1965-66. He won the ACS Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry in 1982, the ACS Award in Chemical Education in 1984, the Richard C. Tolman Medal presented by the ACS Southern California Section in 1967 and the American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal in 1994. At the University of Southern California he received the Excellence in Teaching Award in 1979 and in 1984 the Raubenheimer Award as Outstanding Senior Faculty. He was granted an honorary DSC from the University of Ferrara, Italy in 1993.
Arthur Adamson is known for his Textbook of Physical Chemistry, his problem book Understanding Physical Chemistry and his pioneering Concepts of Inorganic Photochemistry. But of most relevance to this Division is his Physical Chemistry of Surfaces which has been published in six editions over a period of thirty-seven years and which has served as guide for generations of workers in our field.
Arthur Adamson was the founding editor of Langmuir, the ACS Journal of Surfaces and Colloids. He was Chairman of the ACS Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry, a member of the ACS Committee on Publications and of the ACS Committee on Nominations and Elections. In 1982 he was formally nominated to be President of the American Chemical Society.
In 1991 the American Chemical Society established in his honor the Arthur W. Adamson Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Surface Chemistry sponsored by Occidental Petroleum Corporation.
A few personal comments are in order. Art Adamson was interested in history and the people who made our science. For years he made videotapes of prominent surface and colloid chemists that today are sometimes the only records we have of their personalities. He was interested in travel as evidenced by his visiting professorships in Australia and New Zealand. This writer remembers vividly Art’s account during the 1960’s of how he traveled to interesting places to collect snowflakes to use in his studies of adsorption on molecular solids (ice) because, “who knows whether snow from the southern is the same as snow from the northern hemisphere?” And he remembers the delight with which Art and his wife Virginia demonstrated a sure way for a surface chemist to hold a lady’s hand.
Arthur Adamson has been an inspirator, colleague and friend to the colloid and surface chemistry community for over fifty years. We mourn his passing and extend to his family our deepest sympathy. Your husband and father was a wonderful man.


© 2017 Department of Chemistry , USC