AUSTIN, Texas—Dr. John “Mike” White, a university distinguished teaching professor and the Robert A. Welch Chair in Materials Chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin, died on Aug. 31 while visiting his son in Oklahoma City, Okla. He was 68 years old.
White pioneered photochemistry research, and his interests spanned a wide range of topics related to surface and materials chemistry. His major contributions to science were techniques using surface physics to investigate surface chemical problems.
White came to the university in 1966 after completing his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois.
A highly regarded teacher and colleague, White graduated more than 50 doctoral students, many of whom now teach in universities around the world. He mentored numerous new faculty and engaged large numbers of undergraduates in research, always encouraging them to continue with graduate studies.
"Nothing made Professor White prouder than seeing his students succeed, and his students—not his stellar reputation—were by far his top priority," said Pam Cook, White's longtime friend and administrative associate.
White published more than 650 scholarly articles and served a term as chairperson of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
In 2004, he began a joint research appointment with Pacific Northwest National Laboratories that led to the establishment of the Department of Energy's Institute for Interfacial Catalysis. In February 2005 he was named the institute’s first director, a post he held until his death.
From 1991-2002, White served as director of one of the earliest National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded science and technology centers, the Center for Synthesis, Growth and Analysis of Electronic Materials. He led a team of 12 faculty, five postdoctoral fellows and 25 graduate students from four University of Texas at Austin departments. NSF officials frequently held the center as a model of superb research, management and reporting for other interdisciplinary collaborations.
"For those who worked closely with Professor White, this loss is highly personal,” said Cook. “He was a mentor, a teacher, a friend, a model for righteous living, and a loving husband, father, and granddad. He treated those he met with respect and generosity, and his passing leaves a mighty gap in not just the academic and scientific community but also in the circles of faith in which he served and lived."
White is survived by his wife, Gwen, his son, Mark, and daughter-in-law, Melissa, his daughter, RaeAnne, her husband, Todd Landrum, and their children, and his son, Paul. He is also survived by his mother, Frances, and four siblings.
For more information contact: April Wright, 512-471-3949.