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02/10/2010 08:00:00

Estate Gift of $3.9 Million Will Help Caltech Chemists Focus on Innovative Research

Gift comes from the estate of longtime Caltech supporters Edward and Ruth Hughes

PASADENA, CALIF. - A deep appreciation for the sciences has led to a gift of $3.9 million from the estate of Edward and Ruth Hughes to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and its Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering (CCE).

The funds will be used by the division to support highly innovative research proposals that might not otherwise be funded by traditional means.

The Hughes funds will help support eight graduate research fellowships. These fellowships will allow students to focus on challenging problems and find innovative solutions.

Helping support that goal is a matching gift of $2 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Matching Program.

"This is an extraordinary gift from two special members of the CCE family, Ruth and Eddie Hughes," says Jackie Barton, chair of the division. "During their lives they made a difference to chemistry and to the Caltech community. Now, with this gift, they are going to make a difference to generations of graduate students trained in CCE."

The Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering currently has more than 40 faculty members and offers three degree programs. 

Edward Hughes passed away in 1987 and his wife, Ruth, in February 2009. Both were close friends of Caltech, though neither was an alumnus.

Edward was born in 1904, and first became enamored with chemistry in high school. In 1938, he came to Caltech at the invitation of Linus Pauling to help with the editing of Pauling's book, The Nature of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules and Crystals: An Introduction to Modern Structural Chemistry, and to conduct independent research in crystallography. During World War II he trained X-ray technicians and participated in research directed at isolating oxygen from the air at low pressure for high altitude use in bombers subject to enemy machine-gun fire. After working for the Shell Development Company, he returned to Caltech in 1946 as a Senior Research Associate in chemistry, a position he retained until 1974.  

Born in 1915 and educated in Germany, Ruth Hughes was unable to attend a university because of her Jewish heritage and instead trained as a nurse. Recognizing the dangers of staying in Germany, her family emigrated west in the late 1930s. Ruth was the last to leave, moving to London in 1939. It was after then moving to Boston that, coming from the hospital in a very bloody nursing uniform, she first met Edward. They were married on Halloween Day in 1951.

In September 1952, and after a stay at the Athenaeum, they bought a house within walking distance of the Caltech campus and became one of the most popular couples in the Caltech community, helping Pauling with his work and acting as hosts to visiting faculty.

An active member of the Caltech Women's Club, Ruth became a Life Member of the Caltech Associates in 1971, and in 1992 established a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) endowment at Caltech in Edward's memory.

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About Caltech:

Caltech is recognized for its highly select student body of 900 undergraduates and 1,200 graduate students, and for its outstanding faculty. Since 1923, Caltech faculty and alumni have garnered 32 Nobel Prizes and five Crafoord Prizes.

In addition to its prestigious on-campus research programs, Caltech operates the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the W. M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, the Palomar Observatory, and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Caltech is a private university in Pasadena, California. For more information, visit http://www.caltech.edu.

Written by Jon Weiner