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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 30, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 32
Alsoph Corwin, Longtime Chemistry Faculty Members, Dies at 99

Alsoph Corwin using an oscilloscope, ca. 1959.
Photo courtesy Ferdinand Hamburger Archives of the Johns Hopkins University

Alsoph Henry Corwin, 99, professor emeritus in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' Department of Chemistry, died on April 20 at Baltimore Washington Medical Center due to postsurgical complications from a fall.

Corwin joined the Johns Hopkins University faculty in 1932 after earning his PhD at Harvard under James B. Conant. His entire career, spanning more than 40 years, was spent as a teacher, mentor and researcher at Johns Hopkins, where he served as chair of the Department of Chemistry from 1944 to 1947. During his tenure, he was a member of the Academic Council and chairman of the Physical Sciences Group of the Faculty of Philosophy.

Corwin is credited with making significant contributions to several branches of chemistry. For instance, his work led to a clearer and more complete understanding of photosynthesis and the chemistry of chlorophyll and hemoglobin. His research also resulted in the development of a method for restoring highly corroded copper antiquities that has proven invaluable to archaeologists and paleographers, and scientists can now accurately weigh items as tiny and light as particles of dust because of high-precision microbalances he designed.

But it was Corwin's work directing the doctoral research of numerous graduate students and initiating an extensive program of research for undergraduates that earned him students' great respect and enduring affection. When Corwin announced in 1972 his decision to retire, The News-Letter saluted him as a legendary figure "remembered by the average pre-med student for his grueling homework problems, fluorescent bow tie, wire-rimmed glasses and classic smile."

Seventeen years later, former students from as close by as Baltimore and as far away at Japan, India and Nigeria gathered to honor their teacher, mentor and friend by establishing the Alsoph H. Corwin Chair in Chemistry in the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. The chair was fully endowed in 1997 by his many former students and colleagues.

In 1938, Corwin married Johns Hopkins registrar Irene M. Davis (always known, even after her marriage, simply as "Miss Davis"), and the couple quickly became a fixture on the Homewood campus. The two hosted numerous student-centered parties, and invited those who were unable to travel home for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays to share theirs. "Warm" and "welcoming" were the two words that students used to describe the Corwin household.

During World War II, the professor and his wife commuted to Homewood from their Lauraville home on a tandem bicycle to conserve gasoline. In retirement, they spent many summers traveling around the country in their motor home and visiting former students.

The professor's interest in research continued into his retirement, encompassing areas as diverse as allergens — he discovered later in life that he suffered from a variety of food allergies — and antidotes. In his home office and lab, he worked on developing antidotes to cadmium, mercury and lead poisoning, particularly derivatives of dithizone. He became extremely curious about Linus Pauling's work in the field of vitamins, and after much personal examination, came to the conclusion that Pauling's assertions about vitamin C and its effect on longevity were valid. In fact, Corwin attributed his long life to daily consumption of large doses of many vitamins, especially vitamin C.

Over the years Corwin served as a consultant to numerous major corporations and branches of the U.S. government. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi and Alpha Epsilon Delta. The honorary degree of doctor of science was awarded to him in 1953 by his alma mater, Marietta College. He received the Maryland Chemist Award in 1963, the Distinguished American Award of the Marietta (Ohio) Chamber of Commerce in 1978 and the Humanitarian Award of the American Academy of Medical Preventics in 1980. He was the first honorary Theron G. Randolph Lecturer of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine in 1985 and, in 1987, Johns Hopkins awarded him an honorary doctorate of humane letters. In 2002 Marietta College acknowledged his significant contributions to the science world by naming him to its Alumni Hall of Honor.

Corwin's wife died in 1994. He is survived by a niece, Katharine Dougherty of Millersville, and a great-nephew, Michael Dougherty of Baltimore.


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