Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS!

Turkevich dies after career as chemistry professor, scientist

John Turkevich GS '34, the former Eugene Higgins Professor of Chemistry, died Wednesday at the age of 91. His contributions to his field were matched by wide interests in world affairs.

Turkevich was a pioneer in several areas of chemistry, including catalytic research. He served the U.S. government on diplomatic assignments to the Soviet Union as an expert in Russian science.


Active in research during World War II, Turkevich was tapped to work on the Manhattan Project, which built America's atomic bomb. He later served as a consultant to the Atomic Energy Commission and was an adviser to the U.S. delegation at the 1958 conference on peaceful uses of atomic energy.

For much of his 39-year career as a Princeton professor, Turkevich taught a general chemistry course through which he "had a lot of influence on students and (showed) an interest in them," said Walter Kauzmann GS '40, a former University chemistry professor who first met Turkevich in 1937.


"He was a bit of a showman," said chemistry professor Charles Dismukes, who knew Turkevich since 1978. "He was never didactic, never trying to stress his intelligence. He was just a naturally born teacher."

Turkevich was involved in the early development of a number of fields, including the application of mass spectrometry to chemistry, the formation of colloids and the conversion of linear hydrocarbons into rings.

After retiring in 1975, Turkevich actively continued his research, especially on the use of platinum compounds in treating cancer, Kauzmann said.

Despite suffering from Parkinson's Disease, Turkevich continued to plan experiments until his death, Dismukes said.


"You never got the sense that he had lost any of his mental stature. He was always sharp as a whip," he said.

Turkevich's varied interests in chemistry were echoed in his pursuits outside the laboratory, which ranged from the study of foreign affairs to preaching in Russian Orthodox churches.

Fluent in Russian, Turkevich served on numerous diplomatic missions to the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s, during which he arranged scientific exchanges between the two Cold War powers. In addition, he was also the first science attach? at the U.S. embassy in Moscow from 1960 to 1961.

An ordained priest, Turkevich served as an Orthodox chaplain at Princeton for 24 years. He also wrote essays on the relationship between science and spirituality.

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »

"John had a sparkling eyes. He always had an anecdote to share with you or an insight to share with you about nature or the world itself," Dismukes said.

A funeral will be held Sunday at St. Vladimir's Church in Trenton. Turkevich is survived by his two daughters, whose respective husbands are an emeritus University professor of chemistry and physics and the current Orthodox chaplain.