Sosnovsky, George

Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Professor George Sosnovsky, 1921-2018

Professor Emeritus George Sosnovsky, our longtime colleague and friend, died on April 24, 2018, at the enviable age of 97. Growing up in Estonia, surviving WWII, receiving his PhD after the war in Austria, immigrating to the Australia outback to help the desert bloom, and wisely deciding that venture had little future, George moved to the U.S. to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology first as a post-doc and then transitioning to an Associate Professor of Chemistry. An itinerant for so long, he finally found his professional home in 1967 at the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department at UWM.

Dr. Sosnovsky’s career in organic chemistry flourished. He became a major contributor to the area of free radical chemistry, particularly applied to the role of free radical compounds in biological and medicinal chemistry. His research also helped build the foundation for the Milwaukee Institute for Drug Discovery. Besides his internationally recognized research, he co-founded the journal, Synthesis, and designed the current Chemistry building. His writing continued after he retired as he published new papers and books even in his 90’s. After he retired and without fanfare, George continued giving to the department.

This time, it was through the endowed Sosnovsky Distinguished Lecture in Cancer Research, which annually brings the best researchers in the world to UWM, and the Sosnovsky Dissertation prize, created to honor and provide support to a top-rated doctoral student each year. I call George one of the “Departmental Elders,” along with Werner Brandt, Alex Hill, and Peter Kovacic. Together, they were hired to anchor the Department’s conversion from an undergraduate teaching unit to an undergraduate-graduate research department. In turn, they began the process of populating the department with a cadre of outstanding assistant professors and the department we know today was borne. In the process, he helped develop the outstanding reputation of the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department.

I think back about what made UWM’s startling development into a top-tier research university possible. For us in Chemistry and Biochemistry, I have to credit the original UWM faculty from the UW-Extension and Milwaukee State Teachers College for understanding the need to hire senior leadership to transform the department into a powerful research-based program. They were willing to step out of their comfort zone to actually hire and put up with George and a few others who were professionally completely unlike themselves. At that point, it became the responsibility of these research-based faculty, the Elders, to forge the future. It has worked out remarkably well.
Thank you, George, for your part!