Paul Gassman ’60, Chemistry

Paul Gassman
Paul Gassman, courtesy of organicdivision.org

In his annual memo to new members of his research group, distinguished chemistry professor Paul Gassman’s voice booms off the page: “I feel that anyone desiring to become a good organic chemist should be putting in a minimum of 60 hours per week in improving their knowledge and ability in the area of organic chemistry. At least ten hours of this time,” he added, “should be spent reading.”

Indeed, Paul Gassman had definitive expectations of colleagues and students working in his field and his lab. “Those people who feel that they will eventually get a degree if they put in their time this way are badly mistaken. I do not desire to have students who intend to take in excess of five years to get a Ph.D.” Gassman practiced what he preached, earning his Ph.D. at Cornell in just three years.

While Gassman’s views may have seemed excessivley rigorous to some, they served him well in his career. During his decades as a professor at the University of Minnesota, Gassman trained 72 Ph.D. students in his lab, in addition to several dozen post-docs and undergraduates. He acquired 32 patents and produced over 300 publications. In recognition of his stature in the field, he served as the President of the American Chemical Society—the same day he assumed that position was also declared Paul Gassman Day by the governor of Minnesota.

After his unexpected death at the age of 57, the American Chemical Society named the Paul G. Gassman Award, recognizing outstanding service to the organic chemical community, in his honor. Gassman, ever devoted to fostering generations of new chemists, would surely have appreciated the gesture. “If you don’t come into my office and talk to me about chemistry, it will be very difficult for you to learn very much from me. My door is always open to my undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctorals,” he wrote to his students. “However, it is up to you to walk through that door.”