Our department mourns the death of Professor Phillip L. Geissler ’96, the Aldo De Benedictis Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. Born in Ithaca, New York, he grew up in Richmond, Virginia. He returned to Ithaca to attend Cornell, majoring in Chemistry and playing in the Cornell Gamelan Ensemble. His senior thesis was titled A Theory for the Dynamics of Polymer Melts and approached a doctoral dissertation in scope. Graduating summa cum laude in Chemistry, he was awarded the departmental Mandelkern Prize and was designated a Merrill Presidential Scholar by the university.
Following graduate and postdoctoral study with David Chandler at UC Berkeley, postdoctoral study with Eugene Shakhnovich at Harvard and a stint as an MIT Science Fellow, he joined the Berkeley faculty. There he rose through the academic ranks and established a highly creative and internationally renowned program in nonequilibrium statistical mechanics. He became widely known as a talented expositor and an empathetic and charismatic teacher. He maintained his connection to our department, returning in 2012 for a Baker Lecture titled Why would a small ion adsorb to the air-water interface?, and in 2016 for a graduate-student-invited colloquium called When soft interfaces go still: fluctuating roughness as a driving force in nanoscale assembly. Characteristically, each title included an intriguing physical or chemical question, and his audiences could reliably anticipate a talk that was clear and deep. His scientific legacy includes his former research group members who now advance this field with their own programs. He also leaves to us the example of an exceptionally distinguished scientist who was an unusually humane and grounded person.