The International Centre for Diffraction Data

Volume 7 Issue 1

Testimonial and Obituary in honor of Dr. Eugene P. Bertin, Ph.D.

See this newsletter on the ICDD website.

To all ICDD members,

Dr. Eugene P. Bertin, a leading instructor at ICDD’s X-ray Fluorescence Clinics, has passed away at the age of 86. A testimonial and obituary written by his good friend and colleague, Dr. Victor Buhrke, follows.

A noted authority in X-ray fluorescence and scientist at RCA, Dr. Bertin was known both for his research and teaching. Dr. Bertin wrote the textbook, “Principles and Practice of X-ray Spectrometric Analysis”, an epic tome with two editions and multiple printings, that was used for decades as a basic textbook.  In 1988, he was presented with the second-ever Birks Award, given for “Sustained Outstanding Contributions to the Field of X-ray Spectroscopy” as presented by the Denver X-ray Conference.

Dr. Bertin was a lead lecturer of the XRF clinics, taught initially at SUNY in Albany, New York and later at ICDD Headquarters in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. He continued to teach and lecture until age 84. His passion for teaching was obvious for anyone who saw him lecture. He continuously had superb evaluations from clinic attendees who appreciated his combination of intelligence, caring, and enthusiasm.

He will be missed.

Dr. E.P. Bertin, Ph.D.


Testimonial and Obituary in honor of Dr. Eugene P. Bertin, Ph.D.

Writing this obituary is both a painful and traumatic experience for me because Gene and I were close friends for more than 5 decades. We attended the University of Illinois at the same time, had the same thesis advisor, and later both worked for RCA and were involved with Siemens. My wife and I funded a fellowship in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois in the name of Dr. Eugene P. Bertin. Gene also funded a fellowship in my name in the Chemistry Department at Illinois.

Students, friends, and family mourn his peaceful, but unexpected, passing on or about December 2nd at 86, in his apartment in Harrison, N.J. We know very little about his family other than he was estranged from his wife and children before he received his Ph.D. Regrettably, we do not know the whereabouts of members of his family because he was a very private person and never spoke about his relatives, and I never asked him about them.

Gene was a patriot. He enlisted into the U.S. Army at the beginning of the Second World War. Entering the service at the rank of private first class, and when discharged held the rank of Colonel. He taught electronics and did such an outstanding job that he rose rapidly from PFC to Colonel - any GI knows this is a remarkable achievement.

Gene (or E.P. to his old friends and classmates) became a student at the University of Illinois right after his discharge from the service. He received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. (1952) in Analytical/Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Illinois in Urbana. His thesis advisor was Professor George Lindenberg Clark, the author of the first textbook on “Applied X-rays.”

After receiving his Ph.D., Gene became a faculty member at Illinois and taught Chemistry 101 for two years. His lectures were so popular that students would skip other 101 lectures to attend his. The lecture hall was filled to capacity and more. Students sat on the stairs to listen to his enthusiastic and lucid lectures. The fire department gently ejected the students not registered in Gene’s class because sitting on the stairs created a fire hazard. 

Gene left the University two years later to accept a position at the RCA Research Center in Princeton, N.J. and worked there until he retired many years later.  His work involved the use of a microprobe and XRF unit. He was so highly regarded at RCA that the company gave him permission to work 24 hours a day for 4 consecutive days and then have 3 days off. The company also permitted him to have a cot in his office.  Both of these were unusual privileges that only he was granted.

Gene made many contributions to the science of X-ray spectroscopy. He was the principal lecturer on XRF at Henry Chessin’s school in Albany, New York for many years and also at the ICDD XRF courses. His textbooks on XRF were recognized as the best in the world and were landmarks used by thousands of people all over the world. Gene received the prestigious Birks Award from ICDD in recognition of the contribution his books made to the science and application of XRF.

My first contact with Gene was when I, fortunately, took a lab course in X-rays at the University of Illinois and he was the lab instructor. His lectures and instruction were exemplary and unrivaled. I had continuous contact with Gene thereafter until his death. I spoke to him at least twice a month and spoke to him the morning of the day he passed away. He did not complain about any health problems. When he did not answer his phone two days later, I became concerned and arranged for someone to have the police visit his apartment. The police learned from the landlord that after not seeing Gene for two days he entered Gene’s apartment and found Gene dead in his bed. Gene had obviously passed away during his sleep.

Gene had few hobbies. One of them was to acquire a large collection of vacuum tubes. Another hobby was collecting U.S. Army medals. He created and then donated a display of several hundred medals mounted in a glass case. He donated the display to the University of Illinois in Urbana. 

Those who were fortunate enough to know Gene will always respect and admire him for his incredible knowledge of and ability to teach XRF, his modesty, his honesty, and his great sense of humor.

Gene was pleasantly eccentric. He never drank water and for many years he lived almost entirely on a diet of candy bars and Coca Cola. Hard to believe, but he never ate vegetables. Makes you wonder about the value of taking vitamin pills, doesn’t it?

Gene was an intellectual, a dedicated scientist, and an incredible teacher. Science and teaching were Gene’s major interests and thousands of scientists all over the world learned XRF from his lectures and his books and many reprints.

The world has lost a wonderful man and I will miss him very much. May he rest in peace.

Victor E. Buhrke, PhD

December 19, 2008

E.P. Birtin and Terry Maguire
E.P. Birtin and Others
E.P. Bertin, T. Maguire
Front Row: J. Anzelmo, L. Arias, M. Zaitz, L. Creasy, E.P. Bertin
Back Row: T. Fawcett, J. Faber





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