Dr. Reed McNeil Izatt, American Chemist, Dies at 97

Pioneered the Highly Selective Separation of Elements Essential to our Modern World

AMERICAN FORK, Utah, Nov. 1, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Reed McNeil Izatt was born October 10, 1926, in Logan, Utah, the son of Alexander Spowart Izatt, Jr. and Marian McNeil Izatt. He died peacefully surrounded by his loving family on October 29, 2023, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dr. Reed McNeil Izatt

After receiving his early education in a two-room school house in beautiful rural Sumpter Valley, Oregon, Reed went on to become internationally renowned for his groundbreaking research in macrocyclic and separations chemistry, calorimetry, and thermodynamics of metal-ligand interactions. He took great joy in seeing his research being applied worldwide in fields as diverse as lithium-ion battery manufacturing, nuclear waste clean-up and medicine. Living in the remote setting of the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon, within close proximity of the natural world, he developed a strong curiosity for the workings and intricacies of the Earth and space. He particularly developed a strong interest in geology and astronomy which inspired his life-long love of studying the elements and their properties. The periodic table of the elements was Reed’s instrument, and he played it masterfully for the benefit of humankind.

Reed descended, both paternally and maternally, from Scottish immigrants that came to the United States as pioneers to practice their faith in the 19th century. They were among the earliest settlers of Cache Valley, Utah. He has always greatly honored the legacy of these stalwarts who were largely coal miners, but trace their lineage to King James II of Scotland.  As a life-long faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he served in many positions including bishop on the Brigham Young University (BYU) campus and at the Church’s Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. After serving in World War II (1945-46) and as a Church missionary in Scotland (1947-1949), Reed graduated with a B.S. degree in chemistry from Utah State University (1951) and received his Ph.D. degree in chemistry from Pennsylvania State University (1954) where he studied coordination chemistry, which combines the study of metals with organic and inorganic molecules, a field of great relevance in modern society. Two years were spent at Mellon Institute for Industrial Research (now part of Carnegie-Mellon University), following which he accepted a faculty position in 1956 at the Chemistry Department at BYU. Reed retired from BYU in 1993 as the Charles E. Maw Professor of Chemistry.

The research group Reed created while at BYU, along with several of his colleagues, particularly Dr. James J. Christensen, Dr. Jerald S. Bradshaw and Dr. John L. Oscarson, involved a large number of undergraduates, M.S. and Ph.D. students who are co-authors on either research publications or scientific presentations or both. Reed is the author or co-author of over 540 publications, which have received over 30,000 citations. Several of the papers published over 50 years ago are regularly cited today. Reed found great joy in working with his BYU collaborators as well as the many colleagues, business associates and employees he affiliated with while working with IBC Advanced Technologies, Inc., a company he co-founded in 1988 with Dr. Jerald S. Bradshaw and Dr. James J. Christensen. Reed has always credited his extensive professional accomplishments as being due largely to the efforts of those talented students and colleagues with whom he had the honor to work. 

Reed’s love of chemistry led him not only to apply his research to practical problems, in order to address the world’s most pressing challenges, but also to create awards, symposia and endowments to inspire future generations of chemists. These include the International Izatt-Christensen Award in Macrocyclic and Supramolecular Chemistry, which is regarded as the highest international award in these areas and counts as recipients several chemists who later became Nobel Laureates; the Endowed Reed M. Izatt and James J. Christensen Lectureship; and the Endowed Reed M. Izatt and James J. Christensen Faculty Excellence in Research Award. Reed devoted himself to discovering the beauty of chemistry and bequeathing that passion to those that would follow him.   

A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Reed received many awards and recognitions including the American Chemical Society Separations Science and Technology Award (1996), the Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology (1990), and the Calorimetry Conference Huffman Award (1983.) He was ranked number 697 in the United States in the 2023 Edition of Research.com’s Ranking of Best Scientists in the field of Chemistry.  

Reed combined his brilliant scientific mind with a firm testimony of Jesus Christ. To Reed, there was no contradiction between science and faith. To the contrary, he found them to be mutually reinforcing, and they combined in his life to create a beautiful synergy that energized and inspired him to weave a colorful tapestry blending the elements of nature with eternal truths.

Reed took to heart the Biblical injunction to go about doing good. His keen intellect and innate goodness have influenced innumerable lives around the world. Reed’s son Steven observed, “It’s not uncommon to be almost anywhere on the globe and hear of the fondness others have for my Dad. Not only as a scientist but as a kind person that has helped and inspired them in major ways.”

Reed exuded a spirit of service, charity and love. He had a big heart, was without guile, and treasured each member of his eternal family.

Reed is survived by his wife, 5 children, 12 step-children, 19 grandchildren, 42 great-grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.