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Prof. Emeritus Irvine of chemistry dies at 84

John Withers Irvine Jr., who came to MIT as a graduate student from a small college in Missouri in 1934 and retired as executive officer of the Department of Chemistry in 1979, died of a heart attack at his Tucson home on Monday. He was 84.

Professor Irvine, who received the PhD from MIT in 1939, was a research associate in the Department of Physics from 1939-43. He became an assistant professor of chemistry in 1943 and did classified research as a radiochemist in the MIT Radioactivity Center during World War II.

After the war, Professor Irvine told an interviewer that in addition to research that helped develop the atomic bomb, lifesaving work was done at the Center, including the development of a process to preserve whole blood for transfusion for three weeks rather than five days.

"People are prone to think of the atomic bomb as the only contribution," he told International News Service in London in 1949. "This is an error. Many of the discoveries are still on the secret list. I, for example, have never worked on the atomic bomb, nor have I visited the New Mexico plant, but I have done a great deal of work on atomic energy."

MIT promoted Dr. Irvine to associate professor in 1947 and professor in 1958. He was the faculty resident at Ashdown House from 1966-73. While on leaves of absence from MIT, he was a senior chemist at the Clinton Laboratories in Oak Ridge, TN, in 1946 and served as scientific liaison officer in the Office of Naval Research in London from 1957-58.

When he retired in 1979, Professor Irvine donated three slide rules to the MIT Historical Collections -- Pickett and Edel models 4 and 300 and a 10-inch Keufel and Esser.

Professor Irvine was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Physical Society and the Society of Sigma Xi. He loved to grow orchids and was the first president of the Massachusetts branch of the American Orchid Society. He collected Oriental rugs and belonged to the New York Rug Society and the Hajji Baba Club.

A graduate of Missouri Valley College, Professor Irvine was born in Marshall, MO, on July 15, 1913. He received honorary doctorates from his alma mater in 1952 and the University of Ghent in Belgium in 1963. He was married to the former Fredna Tweedt in 1941.

In addition to his wife, Professor Irvine is survived by three daughters, Kathryn Hume of University Park, PA, Mary Jane Haynes of Charlottesville, VA, and Janne Irvine of Tucson; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to MIT's Department of Chemistry, Rm 18-390, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139.

Other Obituaries


There will be a memorial service for Gert-Jan Zwart at 3pm on Friday, Feb. 27 in the MIT Chapel. A first-year graduate student in media arts and sciences, Mr. Zwart, 25, died of cancer at the home of his parents in the Netherlands on January 20 (MIT Tech Talk, Feb. 4).


A funeral Mass was held on February 4 at St. James Church in Medford for Concetta M. Conti, 79, of Medford, a former laboratory aide in the Department of Biology, who died on February 1. She retired in 1981 after working at MIT for 21 years.

She is survived by her husband, Louis; three sons, Peter Scozzari of Pembroke, Roy Scozzari of Billerica and Charles Scozzari of North Carolina; and a sister, Veronica of Rockland. Memorial contributions may be made to the church at 779 Fellsway, Medford, MA 02155.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 25, 1998.

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