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Leigh Clark

Dear Colleagues,

It is with regret that I share the news that Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Leigh Clark passed away February 15, 2021 from cardiovascular complications; he was 86 years old.  Bob Fahey has written an obituary that captures Leigh’s research and teaching excellence as well as his many interesting hobbies and the overall richness of his life.

Vicki Grassian
Professor and Chair


Professor Clark was born in Washington state on September 9, 1934. He grew up in Mill Valley California and attended the University of California, Berkeley where he was a member of and resident of the professional chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma. He obtained a B.S. degree in chemistry in 1957. He continued his studies with William T. Simpson at the University of Washington, where he obtained his Ph.D. degree in 1963. He then spent a postdoctoral year with Ignacio Tinoco, Jr. at UC Berkeley. In 1964 he joined the dozen founding members of the Chemistry Department at UC San Diego, now Chemistry and Biochemistry.


Clark's research involved the measurement and detailed analysis of the electronic spectroscopy of organic molecules.  Nearly all of his research involved vacuum ultraviolet spectroscopy, an experimentally difficult undertaking to which he brought novel experimental approaches and careful attention to detailed analysis of the results. At UC San Diego he pioneered the use of vacuum ultraviolet spectroscopy and reflection spectroscopy of crystals to obtain otherwise difficult to obtain data. A central focus of his studies was the determination of the dipole directions of the individual transitions for the nucleic acid and protein components of important biopolymers. Such data are needed to interpret the circular dichroism spectra of nucleic acids and can be used to distinguish the A, B and Z forms of DNA. Clark also pursued analogous work on proteins. He was most creative and happiest when he was in the laboratory conducting a new experiment. His publications, though limited in quantity, were characterized by his selection of important scientific problems, his success with difficult experimental measurements, and his careful and thorough analysis of the results he obtained.


Professor Clark was popular with students who appreciated his wry sense of humor and he received several awards for outstanding teaching. His goal was to mystify and inspire first year chemistry students to develop their passion for chemistry. He devoted great attention to the Departmental laboratory courses. He wrote the manual for the Department's course on quantitative chemical analysis. Clark taught the upper division physical chemistry laboratory courses for many years, revising the curriculum to include new spectroscopic and related experiments.


 Dr. Clark's favorite pastimes included gardening, skiing, photography and mountain climbing. He served as the group videographer on his most ambitious climb, up Mount Denali (20,308 feet, formerly Mount McKinley) in Alaska. He was also part of a group that was the first to ascend two smaller mountains in the Yukon. Clark was great in the kitchen, as well as the lab, and loved to prepare gourmet cuisine for family and guests.


Clark is survived by his son Adam, his grandsons William, Lawrence and Mitchell Clark, his stepdaughter Nikki Slocum-Bradley and his step-grandsons Arthur Leigh, Andrew and Alistair Bradley. Alice Clark, Leigh's wife of 21 years, passed away in 2003.