Department of Chemistry



Remembrance: Dr. Robert L. Wolke

September 17, 2021 - 3:28pm






Former Pitt Chemistry faculty Robert Wolke passed away on August 29, 2021 at the age of 93. After receiving his BS from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now part of NYU) and his Ph.D. in Nuclear Chemistry at Cornell University, Bob undertook post-doctoral research on nuclear reactions at the Enrico Fermi Institute of Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago. He joined the Department at Pitt in 1960, after stints at General Dynamics, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the University of Florida.  A nuclear chemist by training, he served as associate and full professor, and founding director of the Wherrett Laboratory of Nuclear Chemistry, as well as chair of the building committee for the Chevron Science Center.

During his 30 year career at Pitt, Bob showed many talents, including serving as an academic dean on Pitt's Semester at Sea program. He served as a consultant to the USAID, the USIA and UNESCO, in which he carried out international education assignments in Puerto Rico, Venezuela (where he taught graduate-level chemistry in Spanish) and Bangladesh. In 1986 he was a resident fellow in French history and culture at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, where he wrote a scientific analysis of Marie Curie’s doctoral thesis while she was at the Sorbonne.

Bob was involved in writing, particularly clarifying chemistry and science for the layperson. In addition to two textbooks, he wrote biweekly food science columns for the Washington Post, receiving a James Beard Foundation award for best newspaper food column in 2001. His writing included the "Einstein" series of science books:

What Einstein Didn’t Know: Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions What Einstein Told His Barber: More Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained What Einstein Kept Under His Hat: Secrets of Science in the Kitchen

In 2005, Bob Wolke received the American Chemical Society’s Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, which reflects his long career in making science accessible.

Contributions may be made in his honor to his friend José Andrés’ charity, World Central Kitchen.