Foil Miller Obituary

Foil Allan Miller
Foil Allan Miller

January 1, 1916 - September 20, 2016
Resided in Glenview, IL


Foil Allan Miller was born in Aurora, Illinois on January 18, 1916, and died in the
Chicago suburb of Glenview, Illinois on September 20, 2016 at age 100 years and 8 months. His
father was a Canadian of Scotch-Irish descent, while his mother was from English and
Pennsylvania Dutch stock. He was raised in Pepin, Wisconsin, a small village on the upper
Mississippi River where the latter spreads out to form beautiful Lake Pepin. He was the only
son, but had five younger sisters. A grandfather and an aunt also lived with the family. His
chores included keeping the water pail filled from the hand pump and the wood box filled from
the woodshed, mowing the lawn, and working in the large family garden every Saturday
He, his father, and his grandfather cut firewood in the winter from their wood lot in the
Chippewa River bottom lands, and he helped saw, split, and pile the wood all winter long. He
had a happy boyhood, with fishing, hiking, and ice skating being special interests. He also
played on the baseball and basketball teams of his tiny high school. There were only seven in his
high school graduating class --- one girl and six boys.
Foil's college years were during the Depression. He went to Hamline University in St.
Paul, MN, where he obtained a B.S. in chemistry in 1937 (summa cum laude). After a year of
graduate work at the University of Nebraska, he transferred to Johns Hopkins University in
Baltimore where he obtained his Ph.D. in Chemistry as Prof. Richard C. Lord's first graduate
student. While in Baltimore he met and married Naomi Zeller.
After two years on a National Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Minnesota with Prof. Bryce Crawford, he taught for four years at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana. He moved to Pittsburgh in 1948 to join the staff of Mellon Institute as Head of its Spectroscopy Division,
and later became a Senior Fellow in Independent Research.
In 1967 he transferred to the
University of Pittsburgh as University Professor of Chemistry and Head of the Spectroscopy
Laboratory, and retired from Pitt in 1981. He greatly enjoyed teaching throughout his career.
Foil's research, which was primarily in infrared and Raman spectroscopy, was described
in about 100 refereed publications.
He received world-wide recognition for his work: e.g. a Guggenheim Fellowship for study in Zürich, Switzerland in 1957-58, the Spectroscopy Society
of Pittsburgh Award in 1964, the Pittsburgh Award of the American Chemical Society in 1965,
the Hasler Award of the Society for Applied Spectroscopy in 1973, and visiting lectureships in
Japan (1977), Brazil (1980), and India (1981).
He was co-Editor of the journal Spectrochimica
Acta (1957-1963), and for six years was Secretary of the Commission on Molecular Structure
and Spectroscopy of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (1969-1975). He
held offices in various scientific organizations: President of the Coblentz Society (a national
society of spectroscopists), Chairman of the Pittsburgh Section of the American Chemical
Society, Chairman of the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh, and Chairman of the 1958 Gordon
Conference on Infrared Spectroscopy. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa (John Hopkins
University ca. 1941), and was a member for over 70 years of both the American Chemical
Society and the Optical Society of America,. He was a Fellow of the latter, and an Honorary
Member of the Society for Applied Spectroscopy, the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh, and
the Coblentz Society.
He was active in the annual Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon), a large annual meeting with a typical attendance of about 20, 000, from its inception in 1950 through 2009, missing only four years out of 60.
Foil gave over 400 invited professional talks, including a record 32 speaking tours for the
American Chemical Society. One talk, "Great Mistakes in Science", was presented 144 times.
For 53 years he helped present a short summer course on applied infrared spectroscopy, first at
MIT and later at Bowdoin College in Maine. This led to being a co-author (with Dana W.
Mayo and Robert W. Hannah) of the book Course Notes on the Interpretation of Infrared and
Raman Spectra (Wiley-Interscience, 2004). He also gave about 20 other short courses on the
same subject.
Foil was an energetic and well-organized individual who had great zest for life and who
enjoyed many interests and hobbies. He liked to tell jokes and stories, and had a large fund of
them. He was an ardent hiker, camper, canoeist, and birder. Foil especially loved to travel, and
did a great deal of it. He spent at least two nights in each of the 50 states and in 50 foreign
countries. Photography was another hobby, especially when combined with travel. He gave over
430 slide show travelogs, including 73 at Chestnut Square and 70 at the Wilmette Public Library
as of the end of 2013.
Foil loved his country deeply and delighted in making auto trips to see it.
He and Naomi vacationed in Grand Teton National Park over fifteen times; he greatly enjoyed
hiking in the mountains there.
About the time of his retirement in 1981, Foil began to collect stamps related to chemistry
and physics. He became a recognized authority on the subject, and assembled one of the world's
best stamp collections on it. He was active in a small international society devoted to the topic,
and edited the society's quarterly, Philatelia Chimica et Physica, for eight years (1997-2004), In
1988 he and Professor Edgar Heilbronner of Switzerland coauthored the book A Philatelic
Ramble Through Chemistry, generally regarded as the bible on the subject. Foil has also written
over 180 articles concerning stamps or using them for illustrations. He received the American
Topical Association's Distinguished Topical Philatelist Award in 2009.
Foil was devoted to his family, his country, and his profession. He often expressed deep
appreciation for his long and wonderful life and for his close-knit family. He was predeceased by
his beloved wife of 65 years, Naomi. He is survived by two sons, Bruce of Wilmette, IL and
Craig of Seattle, WA, by a granddaughter and a grandson, a great-grandson, and by two sisters.
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