After a 50-year career, Hase died Monday at the age of 75.
When William "Bill" Hase began his career in 1970, he and other scientists had just begun to pioneer computer programs to better understand chemical reactions. Fifty years later, the field has changed dramatically, thanks to scientists like Hase who transformed computerized chemistry from a cumbersome process into a useful research tool.
But he will be remembered for more than just his contributions to chemistry. Hase also is known for his directness and honesty, his willingness to engage in intense discussions and, above all, his caring nature.
Hase, a Horn Professor and the Robert A. Welch Chair in the Texas Tech University Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, died Monday (March 23) at the age of 75.
After earning his doctorate at New Mexico State University in 1970, followed by postdoctoral study there and at the University of California-Irvine, Hase began his teaching career at Wayne State University in Detroit in 1973. He was still there nearly two decades later, when incoming doctoral student Haobin Wang joined Hase's research group at the end of 1991.
"Bill was a very sincere person, a great mentor," said Wang, now professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Colorado-Denver. "Direct and honest, Bill also respected his students and was happy to engage in constructive discussions. It was fun working with Bill, and I learned a lot because he had a great intuition and deep scientific insight. We had many heated discussions on our research projects. In hindsight, most of my arguments were wrong, but Bill encouraged me to carry them through and helped me improve by analyzing the mistakes I had made."
Hase maintained a tough exterior most of the time, Wang said, but underneath that, he was a very caring person.
"When I came to Wayne State, which was my first trip anywhere outside China, Bill arranged a temporary apartment for me to stay in and picked me up at the Detroit airport," Wang said. "He even loaned me $400 because he knew I did not have much money with me. Bill did such things many times to help other people."
Wang left Hase's research group in 1996, heading off for his postdoctoral fellowship, but the two stayed in touch. Not long after that, Hase happened to meet another young man in a similar position.
While at a scientific meeting in Gull Lake, Minnesota, Hase crossed paths with William Poirier, a soon-to-be doctoral graduate from the University of California-Berkeley who was looking for a place to do his postdoctoral study. Poirier wound up at the University of Chicago and then the University of Montreal, but in 2001, he came to Texas Tech as an assistant professor.
Hase wouldn't be far behind him.
Mesilla Chemistry Workshop
In 1997, Hase founded the annual Mesilla Chemistry Workshop, a four-day event bringing together scientists to discuss and present recent research findings in frontier areas of chemistry. His idea was to assemble groups of people with broad, complementary backgrounds who normally would not have the opportunity to meet, giving them a chance to work together and potentially leading to important advances in chemistry.
He chose Mesilla, New Mexico, as the site because of its relaxed environment, which he thought could generate the openness and spontaneity required for a successful workshop.
"Every year he would bring people from around the world to this meeting for an intense few days of scientific discussion, hiking and Mexican food and drinks," said Poirier, now a professor of chemistry, adjunct professor of physics and the Barnie E. Rushing Jr. Distinguished Faculty Member in chemistry & biochemistry. "At these events, controversial ideas were not frowned upon and were even encouraged. Often, the discussions would stray toward politics, and perhaps other 'taboo' subjects. This is not necessarily the norm for scientific meetings, but I think it was an outgrowth of Bill's personality. Bill was certainly never afraid of strong or controversial opinions.
"For me, though, the most interesting and telling aspect of the Mesilla Chemistry Workshop is that the subject of the meeting was entirely new, each and every year. This always made it fresh and interesting and very much unlike other meetings."
In 2003, Texas Tech was looking to replace its former Robert A. Welch chairperson. Poirier, already on the faculty then, said because of Hase's passion for chemistry and his already close ties to the area with the Mesilla Chemistry Workshop, Hase became a natural candidate for the position.
"He loved the U.S. Southwest," Poirier said. "Professor Hase did his graduate work at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, where he fell in love with the region, and this was, of course, one of the reasons why we were able to attract him to Texas Tech."
Hase started at Texas Tech in January 2004, accompanied by his wife, Alice Young, now a professor of psychological sciences and an associate vice president for research at Texas Tech and a professor of pharmacology and neuroscience at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
Already very well respected and internationally known for his research work before coming to Lubbock, Hase made a name for himself in another way among his Texas Tech students and colleagues.
"I was impressed by the fact that Bill took his teaching duties seriously," Poirier said. "For a number of years, he was voted Graduating Senior-Named Outstanding Faculty Member by his undergraduate students, even students from our second-semester physical chemistry course, which is notorious as a course most chemistry majors dread."
Hase was the quintessential educator, going out of his way to present students with information from a wide variety of sources and also giving opportunities to fellow educators earlier in their careers.
"He was always very good about reaching out to the regional community by inviting other theoretical and experimental faculty from New Mexico and Texas, especially junior faculty just starting out, to come give seminars at Texas Tech," Poirier said.
Hase also initiated a National Science Foundation Partnership in International Research and Education (PIRE) program to put undergraduate students in contact with outstanding international scientists. Each summer, he took a group of students to Europe to visit universities, including Italy's University of Pisa, Spain's University of Santiago de Compostella and Austria's University of Vienna. At the latter, Hase met Hans Lischka and his wife, Adelia Aquino, in 2008. In 2011, Hase convinced them to come to Texas Tech.
"As our research fields were complementary, we had the opportunity to do good science together, resulting in several interesting scientific publications," said Lischka, an adjunct professor in chemistry and biochemistry. "Therefore, a close friendship was developed, and we had very good times together. We used to have Alice and Bill in our house quite frequently for delicious Brazilian food and good wine. We had also exciting times at the Lubbock Art Trail with Alice and Bill, where he was an interested viewer and buyer of different art objects. In this way, we met many artists of Lubbock and had stimulating conversations with them."
"When I first started, computers were too slow and computer programs that could be used by non-experts had not been written," Hase said at the time. "There was a feeling that you should be able to solve the problem with pencil and paper, and computers were only needed if you were not smart enough. This wasn't correct, because we now know modeling complex chemical reactions requires computers. It cannot be done with pencil and paper."
Hase was one of the researchers to pioneer the field.
"Bill Hase used computers to simulate chemical reactions, thereby making predictions about experiments that could be tested in the laboratory, or in some cases, making predictions in situations that would be very difficult to actually realize in a laboratory," Poirier said. "This kind of theoretical work not only enables one to make predictions, but it also offers the ability to interpret what is really going on behind the scenes."
"His idea was to create and apply theoretical methods of classical and semiclassical dynamics to the calculation of chemical reactions," Lischka said. "He wanted to understand them at very basic and deep levels. Under his guidance and initiative, one of the first major computational codes for chemical dynamics, VENUS, was developed."
Hase became nationally and internationally regarded as one of the premier researchers working in the field of chemical dynamics, Poirier said, and was one of the most respected individuals using classical molecular dynamics (CMD).
"CMD is the most widely used tool in the field today, but that was not always the case," Poirier explained. "It should be stressed that when Bill Hase began his career in this area, CMD was, in fact, very unpopular, but its importance has become widely recognized over the intervening decades – in large measure due to the efforts of people like Bill Hase."
Hase also is well known for his mastery of another computational method, known as statistical rate models, and he was particularly good at combining these with CMD, to eke out as much physical insight into chemical reactions as possible.
But, true to the man who founded the Mesilla Chemistry Workshop on the principle of multidisciplinary collaboration, Hase wasn't satisfied to leave theoretical chemistry theoretical.
"He also was very passionate about connecting his theoretical work with real experiments by interacting closely with experimentalists," Poirier said.
Based on that idea, Poirier, Wang and three former members of Hase's research group have been working for several months to organize a symposium in Lubbock. Originally intended to celebrate Hase's 75th birthday, it will now celebrate his life.
"Professor Hase was an accomplished scientist who contributed immensely to scientific advancement," said Horn Professor Yehia Mechref, chair of the department. "He was a vital component in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Texas Tech who worked tirelessly to advance the department and the university. Professor Hase will be deeply missed by all students, staff and faculty in the department and the university at large."
The symposium is tentatively scheduled for spring 2021. More details will be released as it gets closer, but many of Hase's associates and students already have expressed interest in being involved. It seems many of them share a sense of gratitude and affection for him.
"The experience in Bill's group made me the person I am today," Wang said. "He was a truly inspiring mentor, a great teacher and a decent person who helped a lot of people. He's going to be missed by many of us."