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Carl Garland, professor emeritus of chemistry, dies at 87

Physical chemist and MIT professor for over 40 years was “part of a golden age of physical chemistry at MIT.”
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Carl W. Garland
Carl W. Garland
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Carl W. Garland, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemistry, died Tuesday, July 11, at the age of 87.

“Carl was an influential and outstanding scientist, mentor, educator, and colleague,” said Professor Timothy Jamison, head of the Department of Chemistry, upon learning of Garland’s passing. “We continue to hold him in very high esteem and will remember him fondly.”

Born on October 1, 1929 in Bangor, Maine, Garland was a resident of Lexington, Massachusetts. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Rochester in 1950, and went on to receive his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1953. He joined the faculty at MIT later that year as an instructor in the Department of Chemistry. Garland was a professor of physical chemistry in the department for over 40 years, until his retirement in 1997.  His early teaching activity with former Professor David Shoemaker resulted in the laboratory textbook "Experiments in Physical Chemistry." Currently in its 8th edition with new co-authors, the text has been widely used across the country.

Garland held visiting professor appointments across the globe, including the universities of Bordeaux, Paris, Rome, and Cambridge; Israel’s Ben Gurion University of the Negev; and Belgium’s Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. In addition, he served as a scientific editor of the journals Optics and Spectroscopy and Liquid Crystals. He was an A.P. Sloan Fellow (1954-1960), a Guggenheim Fellow (1963-1964), and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

“Carl was part of a golden age of physical chemistry at MIT,” says Professor Robert Guy Griffin. Professor Emeritus John Deutch shares a similar sentiment. “He was part of the distinguished group of physical chemists at MIT: John Ross, John Waugh, Irwin Oppenheim, Jim Kinsey, and Bob Silbey, now all gone, who made the MIT the leading department in physical chemistry from the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s,” Deutch remembers. “A dedicated colleague, Carl did his share, and should not be forgotten.”

Professor emeritus of chemistry Jeffrey Steinfeld has the unique distinction of remembering Garland in two capacities — first, as one of Garland’s students, and later, as a colleague. “In the early 1960s, all Course 5 majors were required to take a physical chemistry laboratory subject, which was taught by Professor Garland,” Steinfeld says. “I took this class, along with [Stanford University Professor Emeritus] Hans Andersen and the Koch twins, Dave and Billy. After I joined the chemistry faculty, Professor Garland — possibly impressed by my performance in his lab class — asked me to join him and Dave Shoemaker as a co-author in a new edition of their classic 'Experiments in Physical Chemistry' laboratory textbook.” Years later, when both Steinfeld and Garland had retired to emeritus status with the department, they remained in touch via a group fondly known as the “Old Faculty Club,” which would meet most Tuesdays in the Stata Center faculty dining area, and included fellow emeritus chemistry faculty Irwin Oppenheim, John Waugh, Robert Alberty, and Dietmar Seyferth.

"Carl will be remembered as a tremendously kind, gentle, and magnanimous colleague whose research and teaching exuded scholarship and excellence,” says Sylvia Ceyer, the J.C. Sheehan Professor and former department head. 

Garland’s early work (1953-1965) involved studying the infrared spectra of chemisorbed molecules in order to characterize the bonding and structure of surface species. Subsequent work (1965-1985) focused on order-disorder and critical phenomena in crystals and fluids. This involved mostly ultrasonic velocity and attenuation as a function of temperature down to 4 kelvins and pressure up to 10 kbar in order to characterize both static thermodynamic and dynamic relaxation behavior. Finally, he undertook extensive studies of second-order phase transitions in liquid crystals (1980-2010), primarily high-resolution AC calorimetry work on the critical behavior in nematic and smectic systems. This work involved pure liquid crystals, binary mixtures of liquid crystals (LCs), and dispersions of silica nanoparticles in LCs. The latter systems allowed one to characterize the effects of random fields on bulk critical behavior in several theoretically interesting universality classes.

Robert Birgeneau, former MIT faculty member and dean of science, and current chancellor emeritus and professor of physics, materials science and engineering, and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, remembers Garland as one of his “most cherished, long-time collaborators … both a close friend and one of the finest scientists that I have ever known.” In particular, Birgeneau recalls a collaboration in the late 1970s, wherein Garland, J. David Lister, and Birgeneau conducted a comprehensive study of the phase transition behavior of thermotropic liquid crystals. “We realized that by carrying out heat capacity, light scattering, and X-ray scattering studies on the same material and analyzing all of the data together, we could obtain a comprehensive and definitive picture of the fundamental physics characterizing these systems,” Birgeneau explains. “This led to a number of landmark papers. Carl was an ideal collaborator; he was an excellent experimentalist, he understood theory well and he thought deeply about the science. Equally importantly, he was generous and kind. I particularly admired his care for his own graduate students, and for mine as well.”

Birgeneau considers his final scientific interaction with Garland among the very best. “After I had come to Berkeley, a former graduate student, Mehmet Ramazanaglu; a postdoc, Byron Freelon; and I extended some of the earlier work that Carl and I had done at MIT on smectic liquid crystals embedded in silica gels. The results were, on the one hand, quite complicated but, on the other hand, prospectively quite important. Given my responsibilities as chancellor, I simply did not have the time required to oversee this project. I literally called Carl out of retirement to help me with this research. He did this with great verve and enthusiasm … it was as if he had gone back in time 30 years. Because of Carl, the project was an incredible success, with the resultant paper enthusiastically praised by the Physical Review referees. ... His passing represents a great loss to us all.”

Garland is survived by his wife of 62 years, Joan Garland, who remembers meeting her husband at the MIT Faculty Club. "I kibitzed on a bridge game [Carl] was playing with John Waugh, David Shoemaker, and Dan Leussing," she recalls. "We were the second couple to get married in the new MIT Chapel, and had our reception at the MIT Faculty Club."

Garland also leaves a daughter, Leslie Garland, of Maynard, Massachusetts, as well as a son, Andrew Garland, his wife, Helene, and three grandchildren, Rachel, Justin, and Daniel of Wyckoff, New Jersey. In addition, he is survived by a brother, David Garland, of Minneapolis, Minnesotta. Funeral services will be private. Those wishing to make a contribution in Garland's memory can do so with Friends of Acadia.

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