Southwest Retort, Volume 44, Number , March 1991 Page: 7
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Recollections of Prof. R.T. Sanderson
Dr. A.G. Ostroff, Mobil R&D, Retired
Editor's Note: Professor Robert Thomas
Sanderson, formerly on the faculties of the U. of
Florida, U. of Iowa, and Arizona State U., died
recently. He was well-known among chemical
educators for the approach he developed for
teaching chemical bonding. He developed the
principle of electronegativity equalization and
proposed an electronegativity scale based on
covalent radii to rival the better-known scales of
Pauling and Mulliken. In recent years his scale
has made something of a comeback because of
its annointing by theoreticians. Here we present
recollections of Professor Sanderson by his
student Tony Ostroff.
Professor R.T. Sanderson was a man of
compassion, consideration, conviction, and
courage. He had a teacher's heart, always
thinking of ways to make learning easier for
his students. (Not grades, but the assimilation
of knowledge.) R.T. Sanderson took a per-
sonal interest in his students and did not con-
sider them as a "necessary evil"- to provide
support.for his research effort. He embodied
the character traits Americans admired in their
When I entered the Ph.D. program at the
University of Iowa, I met Professor Sanderson
for the first time. Because of severe arthritis,
he looked older than his years. He had been a
tall slender man, but was now partially bent
over and was not able to lift his arms above
the shoulders. His eyes sparkled brightly.
His sense of humor was very keen, and
could laugh at himself. In one research meet-
ing, he commented that he and his wife Ber-
nice were out with their baby son. A store
clerk commented to him that he sure had a fine
looking grandson. He laughed. During the
years he served as my research the thesis direc-
tor, I never heard him complain about the pain
he must have experienced or express the
thought that God had treated him unjustly.
Tom Sanderson did is Ph.D. research in
boron chemistry at the University of Chicago.
He was a very proficient glass blower and an
expert at high vacuum manipulation. After
receiving the Ph.D. degree, he worked for an
oil company in its research lab. On his time
off work, he wrote a book on high vacuum
manipulation. He requested permission of lab
management to publish it. Permission was
denied. Shortly after that he became a
chemistry professor, and the book manuscript
In addition to his considerable technical
abilities, Tom was an artist Many years after
I graduated from Iowa, the research lab with
which I was associated decided to use safety
posters to emphasize safe practices in the
chemistry labs. An inquiry to one supplier
resulted in an acceptable bid and a not to me
from R.T. Sanderson. He had formed a com-
pany to supply safety items, and the art work
and the posters were his. There was an enter-
taining but relevant poster for each month of
the year. Introduction to Chemistry contains
some of his cartoons that aid students in un-
derstanding chemical principles.
Professor Sanderson developed a theory
using stability ratios in much the same manner
as Pauling used electronegativities. There
was some competition between the two ap-
proaches. Pauling was more established and
it was hard for Dr. Sanderson to obtain accep-
tance for his theory even though it compen-
sated for some of the deviations in the
electronegativity theory. Pauling and Sander-
son undoubtedly discussed these differences
during Pauling's visit to Iowa as an ACS Tour
speaker. Many professors ultimately adopted
stability ratios as a teaching tool because it
simplified understanding of periodicity.
I feel fortunate in having been associated
with R.T. Sanderson. He was the type of
person that made America great and will
again. I would have been pleased to have had
my children study with a professor of his
character and dedication.
1 t .., " . . ..
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American Chemical Society. Dallas/Fort Worth Section. Southwest Retort, Volume 44, Number , March 1991, periodical, March 1991; [Dallas, Texas]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc268422/m1/7/: accessed November 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .