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Remembering Alfred Viola

Alfred Viola, who founded Northeastern’s chemistry PhD program and taught at the University for 41 years, passed away on May 15th. He was 91.

Dr. Viola was born in 1928 into a Jewish family in Vienna and fled the Nazi regime at the age of nine on the Kindertransport, a British program created to evacuate Jewish children. When he reunited with his family, they moved to Baltimore, MD. He received both his bachelors and masters from Johns Hopkins University and his PhD in organic chemistry at the University of Maryland in 1955.

He joined the Northeastern faculty in 1957 as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and was granted tenure in 1960. Asked to launch the department’s PhD program, he recalled it was “a big responsibility at age 29.” He met his wife, Joy, at Northeastern and the two were married in 1963. In 1985, he was invited to teach pharmacy students. He remained at Northeastern teaching undergraduate and graduate level courses for nearly 41 years, retiring as Professor Emeritus in 1997.

”I remember him as a friendly knowledgeable teacher, with a subtle sense of humor,” said Tom Rosato, undergraduate class of 1963. Nick Fillipp, graduate student from the 1970s shared, “ I have used what I learned from him throughout my entire career. Equally important as his technical leadership, [Dr. Viola] also served as a role model for a well rounded individual. His passion for photography, birding, and exotic travel inspired all of us to pursue our own outside interests and enjoy a balanced life.”

Philip LeQuesne, former colleague, remembers spending “many lunch hours with Al and his research students, as we ate our sandwiches sitting at a table in his laboratory.” He completely invested himself into each of his students, instilling sound scientific reasoning, the highest standards of excellence, and scientific integrity. Karl Weiss, former colleague, added that Al was the only professor he knew who could flunk a student and have them say ‘thank you.’ His investment in his students is reflected in the over 20 bachelors, masters and PhD theses he supervised. In 1991, he was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award.

Dr. Viola had over 40 academic publications and gave over 41 invited lectures. He investigated the mechanisms of thermal reactions and focused on a better understanding of how such reactions take place and how molecular structure influences their outcome. A number of new reaction pathways were discovered during the course of his research with students and he published a comprehensive review in the prestigious international chemistry journal Tetrahedron in 1981.

After his retirement in 1998, Dr. Viola and his wife established the Joy and Alfred Viola Undergraduate Award Fund, supported in perpetuity through their wills, which aids six students each year in Chemistry and Pharmacy.

Dr. Viola was a 50-year member of the American Chemical Society and recipient of the Henry Hill Award presented by the Northeast Section, in recognition of his many years chairing the Continuing Education Committee and serving on the ACS Board of Directors.

Chemistry and Chemical Biology