Friday, July 15, 2011

Sam Levine 1911-2011 (by David and Paul Levine)

Our father Sam Levine who has died aged 100 was a truly outstanding scientist.  Trained as a physicist, he worked in the specialized area of colloids which typically consist of particles immersed in solutions, everyday examples being milk, oil , blood and sauces.     In a research career spanning over 60 years Sam published close to 200 papers many of which were seminal contributions to the fundamental theory of colloidal solutions.
Sam was born in Toronto into a working-class Jewish family and attended Jarvis Collegiate Institute and then Toronto University.  By the time he graduated with a PhD in 1936, he had already written path-breaking papers on the stability of colloidal solutions; any keen cook trying to resurrect a sauce béarnaise will appreciate the importance of this phenomenon. Following graduation he held several post-doctoral research posts before becoming a lecturer in the Physics department in the University.
In 1934 he married our mother Mollie Rabinovitch and the two of them with our sister Judy spent the year 1938-1939 at the University of Cambridge.  Apart from his science, Sam was involved with Mollie in (left-wing) politics for most of his adult life and in Cambridge was active in the United Front campaign to stop Franco in the Spanish civil war.  After returning to Toronto the Levine family emigrated to Britain where Sam worked at Birkbeck College with John Desmond Bernal  (aka ‘The Sage’), before eventually settling in Manchester where he spent the rest of his UK career in the department of mathematics. 
After Sam `retired’ in 1978 he took up a research post in the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The understanding of colloidal systems is fundamental to many areas of technology including the recovery of oil from tar sand.  In the late 1980s, when Sam was approaching his 80th birthday he worked with UBC colleagues for the Alberta Oil Sands Research and Technology Authority on this problem.  Returning with Mollie to the UK he continued his research into his 90s.
Sam was a devoted husband of Mollie and was totally devastated when she died in 1998 at the age of 85. Mollie was a `mature' postgraduate student embarking in at the age of 50 upon first an MSc then PhD in biochemistry at the University of Manchester. From 1974-1980 she held the post of Lecturer in biochemistry publishing many papers in this area, three of which were with Sam. Indeed one of these, an application of colloidal theory to biological cells, is one of Sam’s most highly cited papers.
Sam had a remarkable life. He collaborated with a large number of eminent scientists from countries ranging from the UK, Canada, the US to Australia.  He met many of the great physicists and mathematicians of all time, including Albert Einstein (who provided him with a reference), Paul Dirac, Werner Heisenberg, Richard Feynman and Alan Turing who was a colleague in Manchester.
Sam is survived by his daughter Judy, sons Paul and David, 5 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren.

David and Paul Levine (Published in The Guardian, August 7h, 2011)

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