Hugo Steinfink, Professor Emeritus, Passes Away

Hugo and Cele Steinfink at an outside market on vacation in EuropeHugo Steinfink, professor emeritus in chemical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, passed away August 25, 2012, following complications from a cardiac procedure at the age of 88.

He was a world-class expert on the crystal chemistry, structure and physical properties of rare earth and transition metal compounds.  In 1987 he led the team that defined the unique stoichiometry and structure of the high temperature superconductor YBCO (YBa2Cu307-x), opening the field of structural-chemical research on these unique and now technologically important materials, used as magnets for magnetic resonance imaging and for magnetic levitation

“Hugo was a world-class materials scientist, crystal chemist and crystallographer,” said Roger T. Bonnecaze, Department Chair, T. Brockett Hudson Professor and Bill L. Stanley Leadership Chair. “He was also a thoughtful and supportive colleague.   I was fortunate to get to know him outside of the department on the squash court when I started at UT Austin, where he imparted to me his wisdom on the games of squash and academia. He will be greatly missed.”

Adam Heller, Ernest Cockrell Sr. Chair in Engineering Emeritus and Research Professor of UT Austin, said: “Hugo was one of the great chemical architects; he was blessed with deep insight into the order of materials and minerals constituting our world.”

Born in Vienna, Austria on May 22, 1924, Hugo Steinfink arrived in New York City with his family at the age of 15.  In 1941 he entered City College of New York, but his studies were interrupted by World War II when he served as an Army medic in the Pacific theatre in the Philippines.  He returned home and received a B.S. in chemistry in 1947, followed by an M.S. in chemistry in 1948 from Columbia University.

After obtaining his master’s degree, Steinfink was employed by Shell Development Company, working in its Exploration and Production Research Department in Houston.  He later returned to New York, where he earned his Ph.D. in X-ray crystallography at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in 1954. After returning to Shell Development Company in Houston as a research scientist, he specialized in silicate mineral and organo-silicone crystal structures and was recognized for his studies by election to Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America in 1956.

In 1960 he joined the UT Austin Department of Chemical Engineering as associate professor.  He was promoted to professor in 1963 and appointed the Jewel McAlister Smith Professorship in Engineering in 1981.  He was a core co-initiator of the Materials Science and Engineering Graduate Program at UT and guided the program through administrative channels to become a full-fledged M.S. and Ph.D. degree granting program. He was honored by multiple teaching excellence awards by the university. 

He was an active member of several professional societies.  He served on the U.S. National Committee for Crystallography; was president of the American Crystallographic Association in 1995; was co-editor of Acta Crystallographica from 1984 to 1993; and associate editor of the American Mineralogist from 1970 to 1972. He was also a board member of the American Institute of Physics from 1989 to 1995.

Steinfink is survived by his wife of 64 years, Cele Steinfink; his son Dan Steinfink and his wife Beverly of Dallas; his daughter Susan and her husband Henri Soussan of Houston; his grandchildren David Steinfink and his wife Ashley; Adam Steinfink; Sarah and her husband Michael Cogliandro; Nicole Soussan; his great grandson, Samuel Steinfink; and his brother Emil Steinfink. 



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