Philip J. Stephens was born in West Bromwich, England. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1962 and a D. Phil. in 1964 both in Chemistry at the University of Oxford guided by A. David Buckingham. Philip had two postdoctoral fellowships, first at the University of Copenhagen with Carl Ballhausen and then at the University of Chicago with Donald McClure, before joining the faculty at USC in 1967. He also served as chemistry department chair from 1992 to 1998.
Philip pioneered the use of two chiral spectroscopies-magnetic circular dichroism (MCD) and vibrational circular dichroism (VCD)-and the application of density functional theory (DFT) of IR and VCD spectra to to ascertain the absolute molecular configurations of organic molecules and biomolecules. He applied these techniques to study a diverse group of systems, ranging from small chiral organic molecules and natural products to heme proteins and blue copper proteins to the iron-sulfur complex in ferredoxin, a protein that transfers electrons.
Phllip's techniques have been applied in the pharmaceutical industry to determine drug structures, help calculate safe temperatures for accelerated stability studies, and to screen for better drug candidates and formulations.
He wrote more than 200 published papers across many areas of chemistry. He received an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the USC Associates Award for Creative Scholarship & Research. Philip was named a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2008.
Philip died on July 31, 2012 and is survived by his wife, Anne-Marie and his daughter, Melanie.
A Scientific Memoir was organized in a special issue of Theoretical Chemistry Accounts to celebrate Philip's scientific career by his ex-graduate students Gerard Jensen and Karl Jalkanen. The link to that 2008 article is: Theor. Chem. Acct (2008) 1195:5-18.