Dana W. Mayo

Dana W. Mayo, Charles Weston Pickard Professor of Chemistry Emeritus, died on Saturday, November 26, 2016, at his home in Topsham after a long illness.

President Rose sent the following message to the Bowdoin community on November 29, 2016:

I am sorry to inform you of the death of Dana W. Mayo, Charles Weston Pickard Professor of Chemistry Emeritus. Dana died on Saturday, November 26, 2016, at his home in Topsham after a long illness. He was 88 years old.

Dana Mayo earned an international reputation for his pioneering research in infrared spectroscopy and oil-pollution research, and for his role in the development of microscale laboratory techniques for the teaching of chemistry. Closer to home, he was a gifted and dedicated teacher and a colleague who worked tirelessly to build the resources, curriculum, and reputation of the chemistry department at Bowdoin.

Dana was born on July 20, 1928, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1952. He served in the US Air Force from 1952 to 1959, where he was a project engineer in the polymer and materials physics branches at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, and engaged in graduate study at Indiana University. Dana earned a PhD in organic chemistry at Indiana University in 1959. From 1960 to 1962 he was a fellow at MIT’s School for Advanced Study and was also a National Institutes of Health (NIH) postdoctoral fellow in the MIT chemistry department.

Dana joined the Bowdoin faculty as an assistant professor of chemistry in 1962. An avid hiker and mountaineer, he was a member of the “4,000-footers club,” and he once remarked that what attracted him to Bowdoin was its proximity to Pinkham Notch in the White Mountains. On the basis of his productive scholarship and teaching, he became an associate professor in l965, was promoted to the rank of full professor in 1968, and was named to the Charles Weston Pickard professorship in 1970. A former chair of the Department of Chemistry, Dana was the author or coauthor of textbooks in chemistry and infrared spectroscopy and of numerous articles that appeared in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the Journal of Organic Chemistry, Applied Spectroscopy, and other top journals in the field.

An internationally known leader in the field of infrared (IR) spectroscopy, Dana moved from student to instructor at an MIT summer program on IR spectroscopy in the 1950s. In 1972 he brought the program to Bowdoin, where it has been ever since. He directed the Infrared Spectroscopy Program from 1972 to 2000 and remained on the staff for several more years. The MIT-Bowdoin program is the world’s longest-running short course on the subject and, since 1972, more than 3,000 researchers have taken the course on the Bowdoin campus.

Dana brought his expertise in IR spectroscopy to bear on practical and pressing concerns as well. Following a 1972 oil spill in Portland Harbor from a leak on the Norwegian tanker Tamano, Dana and his students took and analyzed samples of oil, sediments, water, and organisms from the affected area. Their analysis confirmed that a unique chemical “fingerprint” could be identified for oil from a single cargo ship, even after weathering and complex chemical interactions with ecosystem components. This research (and Dana’s testimony) led to an award to the State of Maine for damages and to subsequent legislation for an oil conveyance bill, which generated funds for cleaning up future oil spills. With Bowdoin professors David Page and Edward Gilfillan, Dana formed the Bowdoin Hydrocarbon Research Center, which generated important data for researchers, policy makers, the oil industry, and agencies charged with environmental protection and public safety.

Perhaps the best known of Dana’s contributions is his collaboration with Bowdoin faculty colleague Samuel S. Butcher and Professor Ronald Pike of Merrimack College on a revolutionary approach to teaching chemistry through a curriculum and laboratory equipment especially designed for microscale techniques. Dana and his colleagues recognized that traditional laboratory instruction used chemicals in quantities that posed health hazards (fumes, fires, explosions), were associated with excessive financial costs or environmental risks in chemical waste disposal, promoted imprecise measurement, and often involved long reaction times because of the quantities of chemical used. By reducing the scale of experiments 100 to 1,000 times, departments could reduce the expenses of teaching organic chemistry by 80 percent. It required that Dana and his colleagues redesign equipment and laboratory stations and rewrite chemistry textbooks, but the demand from secondary schools and colleges and universities for their new approach was so high that the publishers of the first edition of the team’s microscale textbook decided to issue a preliminary 1985 version in advance of the 1986 first edition. The textbook is now in its sixth edition.

The microscale organic chemistry curriculum was adopted by more than 400 colleges and universities throughout the country. In 1986, Mayo, Butcher, and Pike were co-recipients of the first Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Higher Education and were cited for “revolutionizing undergraduate instruction in chemistry.” The three also shared the 1987 American Chemical Society Health and Safety Award. In 1987 Dana and Ronald Pike received the John A. Timm Award for the Furtherance of the Study of Chemistry from the New England Association of Chemistry Teachers. They were also chosen as co-recipients of the James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Achievements in Teaching Chemistry by the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society. In 1989 Dana received a National Catalyst Award from the Chemical Manufacturers Association for his role in transforming chemistry education and, by extension, laboratory practices in the chemical industry. And in 1990, Dana Mayo and Sam Butcher were presented with the Bowdoin Prize, the College’s highest honor; they remain the only recipients of the prize who are not Bowdoin alumni.

Throughout his career, Dana Mayo maintained the highest of standards in his research and in his teaching. He leaves an indelible impression on his profession, on his colleagues, students, and many friends, on Bowdoin College, and on all those who build upon the solid foundation of research and teaching that he created.

Dana is survived by his wife, O. Jeanne d’Arc Mayo, whom he married in 1962; two sons, Dana Mayo (Charlene) of Pacific Palisades, CA, and Chapman Mayo (Lohini) of St. Paul, MN; a daughter, Sara W. Mayo (Charles Foehl); and seven grandchildren, Mackenzie Mayo, Perry Mayo, Dexter Mayo, Hugh Mayo, Hazen Mayo, Walker Foehl, and Reed Foehl.

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, December 10, at 11:00 a.m. in the Bowdoin Chapel, with a reception to follow in the Moulton Union.

We share with Dana’s family, colleagues, former students, and friends a deep sense of loss at his passing and a profound sense of gratitude for the ways in which his presence among us opened doors to new ways of knowing the world.


Clayton Rose