Remembering Dr. Marilyn Olmstead

It is with deep sadness that we observe the passing of Dr. Marilyn Olmstead, Professor Emerita of Chemistry, on September 30, 2020. Dr. Olmstead characterized with X-ray crystallography the first ever endohedral metallofullerene and first-ever non-IPR obeying endohedral metallofullerene, and she was one of the world’s foremost and most prolific fullerene crystallographers. At the time of her passing, Dr. Olmstead had an H-Index of 84, had published over 1,100 papers in prestigious scientific journals, and had been cited more than 34,000 times. Dr. Olmstead was the recipient of numerous awards for her scientific work, and she was a Fellow of the American Chemical Society and the American Crystallographic Association.

Marilyn attended Reed College, where she majored in chemistry, and she continued to pursue her interest in inorganic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied molecular orbital theory. At Madison, she met her husband, Alan Olmstead, and had her first child, Janis. A shining light for Marilyn at Madison was Professor Larry Dahl, who introduced her to the wonders of X-ray crystallography. She received her Ph.D. from Madison in 1969.

Marilyn had a broad range of research interests, drawing from her focus on small molecule X-ray crystallography. She gained wide recognition for her skill in crystal structure determination. She was a visiting scholar at research institutes in numerous countries, including Malaysia, China, Germany, Great Britain, India, and Switzerland. She was acknowledged worldwide as the leader in the crystallographic study of fullerenes or Buckyballs – a sphere-shaped, crystalline allotrope of carbon discovered in 1985.

Marilyn took the lead in writing several large grants that were funded to modernize the UCD crystallography lab that she effectively directed. Under her leadership the Davis facility would become one of the most productive crystallographic labs in the world. By 2000, Marilyn was the most published and cited member of the Chemistry Department.

Over and above being a groundbreaking crystallographer, Marilyn was an extraordinary mentor and teacher to the students she advised or co-advised. She taught crystallography patiently and with enthusiasm, and she constantly advocated for students – pushing for support and funding, requesting better technology and state-of-the-art research infrastructure, and imparting the skills and guidance they needed to succeed. One of her students said, “Marilyn was more than an engaged and brilliant crystallography mentor; she was the closest thing I had to family on this continent. She welcomed me into her home, helped me adjust to life in Davis and find my scientific niche, and cheered me on at every milestone.”

Despite Marilyn’s many professional and community activities, her family was always the center of her life. Marilyn is survived by Alan, her husband of 53 years; her daughter Janis and her children Dylan and Emma; her son Nate and his wife Erin and their children Avery and Evan; and her sister Marcia Trombold. Marilyn was preceded in death by her son, Eric.

In lieu of flowers, the family invites well-wishers to help carry on Marilyn’s work by contributing to The Marilyn M. Olmstead Graduate Research Fund for Excellence in Inorganic Chemistry.

Author: ACS Sacramento Section

The Sacramento area has over 900 members of the American Chemical Society in all areas of chemistry.

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