Pioneering NCAR photochemist passes

Jack G. Calvert (1923-2016)

June 29, 2016 | Jack Calvert, a preeminent researcher in photochemistry, atmospheric chemistry, and air pollution, died on June 1 at the age of 93 in Tennessee.

Calvert joined NCAR as a senior scientist in 1981, after serving for more than three decades as a professor of chemistry at Ohio State University. His chosen specialty was the investigation of chemical reactions initiated by light.

While at NCAR, Calvert led the Atmospheric Kinetics and Photochemistry Group until he retired in 1993 and was appointed emeritus senior scientist.

"In a sense, he defined atmospheric photochemistry, at least in the early days," said NCAR Senior Scientist John Orlando.

Orlando and NCAR Senior Scientist Geoff Tyndall, who both were hired by Calvert in the late 1980s, described him as an approachable, gentlemanly mentor who could write almost without thinking about the mechanisms of reactions influencing atmospheric ozone. His leadership contributed to the careers of many scientists at and beyond NCAR.

Former NCAR Senior Scientist Jack G. Calvert
Former NCAR Senior Scientist Jack G. Calvert, a preeminent researcher in atmospheric photochemistry. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)

"Although he was really a lab chemist, he promoted field measurements," Tyndall said. The field studies included Mauna Loa in Hawaii and Idaho Hill in Colorado, where instruments developed in his group were deployed by NCAR colleagues Chris Cantrell and Rick Shetter.

Calvert authored or co-authored about 300 publications in photochemistry, reaction kinetics, and atmospheric chemistry. This includes a seminal work on photochemistry in 1966.  He worked closely with NCAR Senior Scientist Sasha Madronich to develop the Master Chemical Mechanism in the 1980s, which provides one of the most detailed representations available to study the chemistry of the atmosphere.

Scientific contributions continued well into Calvert's "retirement." He was an author and editor of a set of five books from Oxford University Press that include Tyndall, Orlando, and Madronich as co-authors. The last book of that set, "The Mechanisms of Reactions Influencing Atmospheric Ozone," was published in 2015. His honors include receiving a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial fellowship in 1977, and the Haagen-Smit Prize in 2011, named after a pioneer in the study of air pollution.

Orlando recalled that Calvert liked to celebrate events such as the completion of books with good meals and wine, and enjoyed regaling his colleagues with colorful accounts of his days at Ohio State and the University of California, Los Angeles, where he received his bachelor's and Ph.D. in chemistry. He liked to talk, for example, about a time at Ohio State when then football coach Woody Hayes asked his advice about how the team could best cope with air pollution during a big game at the University of Southern California.

Calvert is survived by his wife, Doris; sons Richard and Mark; and six grandchildren. The funeral and burial were held on June 9 at the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery.

Jeff Smith, Science Writer and Public Information Officer