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Professor Robert S.H. Liu (1938-2024)

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E. Professor: R. Liu
Professor Robert Liu

It is with great sadness we report that Robert S. H. Liu, Fellow of the Inter-American Photochemical Society, a valuable member of our community passed away on January 20, 2024.   Born in 1938, he received his early education in Shanghai and Hong Kong and college education at Howard Payne College, Texas and PhD degree from California Institute of Technology (with George S. Hammond). After working 4 years as a research chemist at duPont, he joined the chemistry department at University of Hawaii in 1968. Being promoted to the rank of professor in 1972, he remained there until summer 2005 when he retired from full-time teaching and concluded his research program in spring of 2009. The Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship (1970-72), the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (1974-75), the NSF Creativity Award (1987) and the NIH Merit Award (1992) are among the few honors he received. He was also the recipient of both the UH Board of Regent’s Medals of Excellence in Research (1986) and in Teaching (1988). In his photochemical studies (on polyenes, second triplet states, vitamin A isomers, visual pigments, azulenes) he attempted to integrate results of steady state photochemical studies with ideas put forth by ultrafast spectroscopists. His major contributions include sensitization from upper triplets (T2), one-way photoisomerization of hindered b-ionyl derivatives, syntheses of highly hindered 7-cis geometrical isomers of retinal, the “hula twist” mechanism of photoisomerization of the rhodopsin chromophore and the application of 19 F NMR to the study of protein- substrate interactions.  He accomplished all these from a place known for hula-dance, beautiful beaches, and natural beauty.  The philosophy of his approach revealed in an interview well suited the isolation he experienced during his scientific career: “I never considered myself very good in competing in popular areas of research. Instead, I often worked in areas that were of little interest to others”.  The thoughtful advice Prof. Liu offered to his students garnered enviable love and respect from them.  His research accomplishments recorded in more than 240 refereed publications will keep him alive forever.


V. Ramamurthy (Ph. D student of Prof Liu, 1970-74)
Dept of Chemistry, Uni. Miami, Coral Gables, FL


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