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In Memoriam: Alumnus Alvin W. Czanderna



Chemistry alumnus Alvin (Al) W. Czanderna, 93, who served in the Air Force, at Union Carbide (UC), Clarkson University, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), died in San Antonio, TX on June 5, 2023.

Born in La Porte, IN, May 27, 1930, Al earned a B.S. in Metallurgical Engineering in 1951 and a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry in 1957 at Purdue University.  Professor J. M. Honig was his thesis supervisor.  During his 53-year career, he was a physical metallurgist in the USAF from 1951-53, research scientist with UC at Parma, OH and S. Charleston, W. Va. from 1957-65, Professor of Physics at Clarkson from 1965-78, Research Fellow at the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) in Golden CO, [became NREL in 1991] from 1978-1999.  He was adjunct professor at the universities of Denver, Colorado School of Mines, and Colorado between 1980-2000.  Although retired in 1999, he was a consultant to NREL until 2004; he consulted for ten corporations from 1966-78.

Al married his wife “Lucy” in 1953.  In 1967, Lucy volunteered to be the Czanderna household manager.  Her willingness permitted Al to work professionally from 60-80 h/week, greatly enhancing his professional contributions.

Al was recognized internationally for his research in surface science.  With Union Carbide, he studied the adsorption of oxygen on silver surfaces and the oxidation of thin copper films. From ultra-micro-gravimetric studies, he elucidated the atomic and molecular surface coverages of oxygen on silver. With Harold Weider, he studied the oxidation of thin copper films and identified CuO0.67 as a gross defect structure of cuprous oxide.  The first paper reporting this new result, which had not been reported in 450 prior copper oxidation studies, was rejected because “the conclusions have not been reported before!”  CuO0.67 was substantiated by numerous studies by others after the results were published in the J. Phys. Chem. (1962). 

With his graduate students, he continued similar studies as a Professor of Physics at Clarkson, but soon began using ion scattering spectrometry (ISS) to carry out surface analysis on solid surfaces.  He expanded his surface analytical studies to using XPS, AES, SIMS, and SIMS on surfaces/interfaces at SERI/NREL. Before retiring, he was studying interactions and reactions at solid/gas and solid/solid interfaces, interactions at metal (oxide)/self-assembled monolayer interfaces, polymer/metal interfaces, the durability of photovoltaic (PV) cells/mini-modules, electrochromic windows, silver/glass mirrors, and the service lifetime prediction of multilayered devices—all for solar applications.  From work by his group at NREL, the service lifetime of PV modules now exceeds 20 years.

Czanderna joined the ACS in 1959.  He joined AVS International (1964) and they made him their 32nd Honorary member in 2006. He contributed 258 publications to the scientific literature including 57 review chapters, and 21 edited books, and as an inventor was granted 4 US Patents.  An internationally recognized surface scientist, he gave about 455 technical talks including 225 invited lectures.  He taught 93 2 or 3-day short courses on the Fundamentals of Surface Science and the Methods of Surface Analysis (XPS, AES, ISS, and SIMS), mostly for the AVS. Al became a Fellow of the APS in 1975.  He was Fellow of the NYAS (1972), Solar Energy Research Institute (1983, precursor to NREL), and the AVS (1995). He received numerous awards for his interdisciplinary research from SERI/NREL and the Fourth Research Award of the Energy Technology Division of the Electrochemical Society in May 1999 for his research contributions in renewable energy research and development. The American Chemical Society honored Al with the “Arthur Adamson Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Surface Chemistry” in March 2000.  Purdue’s Department of Chemistry named him “Distinguished Alumnus” in October 2004. Al recognized Lucy’s support when accepting each Award.

Al was a member of the APS, ACS, AVS, ECS, NYAS, ASTM, and NFRC and served on numerous committees of five of these societies.  For the AVS, Al served on a committee of four to recommend a surface science division, which the AVS approved in 1969.  He was Chair and Vice-Chair of the AVS Education Committee, Chair of the Applied Surface Science Division, a member of numerous committees, and a Scholarship Trustee from 1992-94.         

Al was a passionate member of eleven congregations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and served in various governance positions in congregations.  His passion for teaching included Bible Classes. In 1973, he was elected to be a lay member of the LCMS Board for Higher Education.  He was vice-chairman 1979-1981, and then chairman from 1981-83, and concluded his service in 1986.          

Al demanded perfection of himself and was a people builder.  Of himself, his philosophy was to perform all that he did to his maximum potential.  Not surprisingly, he encouraged and expected the same commitment from all those he supervised in any capacity, but especially from 8 Ph.D. and 15 M.S. thesis students he prepared for further professional work.  He pursued all activities with passion including writing his family history that took 2 calendar years at about 20h/w to produce a 350-page document.  As a first-generation immigrant, he cited his opportunity to pursue the American Dream because his grandfather brought his father to the United States in 1912.

Czanderna is survived by daughters Karel Czanderna and Kani Nichols, their husbands Dan Shirkey and Bill Nichols, four grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.  He was predeceased by his wife Lucy of 59 years and his daughter Kathy.

Al desired that memorial contributions be made to Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, 6914 Wurzbach Rd., San Antonio, TX, 78240 or to a charity of your choice. Daughters Karel and Kani welcome your reflections about our father to