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Willett F. Ramsdell
LSA Minutes


Emeritus Professor Lewis S. Ramsdell, former chairman of the erstwhile Department of Mineralogy, died July 14, 1975 in Palo Alto, California at the age of 80.

Born June 4, 1895 at Clinton, Michigan, Professor Ramsdell spent essentially his entire academic career at The University of Michigan, first as an undergraduate student (BA, 1917), then as a graduate student (MS, 1919; Ph.D. 1925) and concomitantly and subsequently as a teacher (Instructor, 1919; Assistant Professor, 1926; Associate Professor, 1935 and Full Professor, 1944). He served as Chairman of the Department of Mineralogy from 1951 until his retirement in 1961 at which time he was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus of Mineralogy. His stewardship of the Department of Mineralogy was its last, for, upon his retirement the Department was wed to Geology, a marriage, if not of love, at least of convenience.

During his 42-year career as a professional mineralogist, Lewis Ramsdell contributed most significantly to science and mankind in three principal domains:

1. Teaching. Sent by the late Dean Edward H. Kraus to the University of Manchester, England, in 1933 to learn techniques in the application of x-rays in crystallography and mineralogy, Professor Ramsdell, upon his return, initiated a course in X-Ray Crystallography. To it were attracted not only students of mineralogy but also those of chemistry, physics and metallurgy, and for many years the Department of Mineralogy maintained a monopoly of teaching efforts in this fundamental scientific technique. Like all of the primordial x-ray diffraction apparatus, Ramsdell's was "home made", consisting of a resurrected dental transformer in dubious collaboration with other scavenged discards. The successful operation of this contrary contraption blended a compound of patience, skill, time and good fortune. Nevertheless, as Ramsdell's research record shows, he made it function successfully. In 1936 Ramsdell also joined his former teachers, Dean Kraus and Professor Walter F. Hunt in the preparation of the third and revised edition of "Mineralogy" at that time the most widely used English textbook in elementary mineralogy.

2. Research. Although his researches were not multitudinous, his completions were particulary fundamental. Especially note-worthy are his contributions in structural crystallography to:
a. The relationships between the polymorphs of silver sulfide, argentite and acanthite.
b Definition of the phases included in the "black manganese
oxide" minerals, a group that required manipulative dexterity and patience owing to their predeliction toward inhomogeniety and exceedingly fine grain size. In honor of his researches on this group, one of the new phases he first recognized was later fully described and named ramsdellite in his honor by Michael Fleischer and W. E. Richmond (Econ. Geol. 38, 269-286, 1943).
c. Definition of and the fundamental relationships among the numerous polytypes of silicon carbide.
d. Characterization of the structure of the first known high-pressure polymorph of silica, coesite.

3. Service. Professor Ramsdell was one of the charter members of The Mineralogical Society of America. For many years he served the Society faithfully but anonymously, assisting Walter F, Hunt in the chores of editing "The American Mineralogist". Ramsdell performed much of the thankless but necessary drudgery of galley proofreading. In 1952 he gained official recognition as Assistant Editor of the journal and five years later became Editor, a position he relinquished upon his retirement at the end of 1961. A faithful churchman, he was a devoted member of the Ann Arbor First Methodist Church which he served skillfully as treasurer for ten years (1940-1950). During World War I he served U. S. Army Ordinance.

Professor Ramsdell is survived by his widow, Lois (nee Calkins), whom he married in 1920, and by two daughters, Mrs. Betty Mills of Missoula, Montana and Mrs. Helen Reeve of San Jose, California and by six grandchildren.