Director of science center, chemistry professor dies

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Former students and colleagues of UT chemistry professor Paul Barbara remember him as a tireless researcher who still found time to connect with his classes.

Barbara passed away Oct. 31 after complications from cardiac arrest. He was 57.

Barbara established the University’s Center for Nano and Molecular Science and Technology and led efforts to obtain a $37 million building on campus. He also received a $13 million Department of Energy award in 2009 to study how to improve the efficiency of solar plastic cell material.

A graduate of Hofstra and Brown universities, Barbara taught at UT for the past 12 years and served as the director of the University’s Center for Nano and Molecular Science and Technology. In 2006, Barbara was appointed to the National Academy of Sciences.

Visiting researcher Jan Vogelsang said he has worked under Barbara’s guidance for the past year and was impressed by how he tried to stay connected with his students.
“Besides all his administrative work, he still found time to do hands-on experiments, discuss them and the results with his students,” he said.

Barbara advised postdoctoral fellow Girish Lakhwani on his research on conjugated polymers, large molecules that conduct electricity. Lakhwani said Barbara pushed his students to become more meticulous.

“Paul was a perfectionist. He was always critical of experiments that we did which encouraged us to do better,” he said. “His passion and dedication towards doing meaningful science is unparalleled.”

Associate professor David Vanden Bout said Barbara’s passion for innovation was extraordinary.

“When I was a postdoctoral fellow working for him, it was difficult for us to keep up with the sheer volume of ideas he generated.” Vanden Bout said. “If an experiment was easy and straightforward, Paul was generally not interested as it was likely filling in the details rather than breaking new ground.”

Vanden Bout said Barbara became consumed with more complex experiments. After talking with Barbara about an experiment in his office, he would receive a phone call asking how it was progressing.

“It is his passion for science that was evidence in those conversations that I will miss,” he said.