Department of Chemistry

Anton Burg, 1904-2003

Anton Burg, distinguished emeritus professor, died on November 18 at the age of 99 at his home near USC. A leading expert in the study of boron compounds, Anton is credited as being the “father of chemistry at USC”. He came to the university as an assistant professor in 1939, joining what was then an undistinguished department that had not performed significant research. Within a year he was promoted to chairman, and he used his position to turn the department into a major research department by hiring top faculty and acquiring research funding. Among those he hired were Sidney Benson and Arthur Adamson, who went on to become world-renown leaders in their fields.

Anton Burg’s real passion, however, was studying boron compounds, a field in which he was a pioneer and a leader. He synthesized many boron compounds that eventually found wide use in organic chemistry as tools for creating more complex molecules. Among his many graduate students was Herbert C. Brown, who went on to win the Nobel Prize. Burg remained active in research long after he had officially retired and maintained a productive lab until he was in his nineties. A bicyclist who never drove a car, Burg was both a scholar and a nationally ranked track star as a student at the University of Chicago. Burg never married, and the department and the university were his home for many years. His 90th birthday celebration was a festive occasion for colleagues and former students to celebrate his life in science. As always, he entertained his audience by reading some of his limericks, which were gathered by his colleagues in book format. An article for the USC Chronicle written by Eric Mankin in 1994 for this occasion describes in lively detail Burg’s colorful life and quotes colleagues who knew him well.

A memorial service will take place at USC on November 26, at 7:00 p.m. at the United University Church, 817 West 34th Street. Los Angeles, CA 90007. For more information, please contact Michele Dea, Michele@usc.edu.

IN MEMORY OF ANTON BURG by William N. Lipscomb.

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