In memoriam - Morris Schnitzer (1922-2020)

Dr Morris Schnitzer (©Soil Science Society of Canada)Morris Schnitzer, born in Bochum, Germany, passed away peacefully on 9th June 2020 at the age of 98. He published a book on his early life odyssey under the title "My Three Selves" (Lugus Publications, Toronto, 2002), soon to be reissued as a textbook under a new title by the Azrieli Foundation. Morris obtained his B.Sc. honors in 1951, M.Sc in 1952, and Ph.D. in 1955 in soil chemistry all from McGill University, Canada. From 1954 to 1956 he worked as a Research and Development Chemist for the Aluminum Company of Canada (ALCAN) in Arvida. Quebec, Canada. His task was to develop analytical methods for the analysis of metals in aluminum alloys. In 1956 he joined the Research Branch of Agriculture Canada. His first research dealt with the formation of complexes between metals and fulvic acid in Spodosols soils. The characterization of these complexes led to in-depth studies on the characteristics of fulvic acid and its chemical structure. From 1961 to 1962, Morris did post-doctorate studies in the Organic Chemistry Department of the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, England, under the guidance of Sir Derek Barton, Nobel Laureate in Organic Chemistry. He conducted his research on a Spodosol fulvic acid which he had brought from Canada. More important than the research were his many discussions with Sir Derek on how to apply natural products chemistry for solving structural problems in fulvic acid. After his return to Canada, Morris started a long-term investigation on the oxidative degradation of humic acids, fulvic acids and humins as well as whole soils, using a variety of oxidants. These studies showed that: (a) isolated aromatic rings are important structural units of all humic substances; (b) aliphatic chains are linking aromatic rings to form aromatic networks; and (c) humic substances structures contain voids of various molecular dimensions that can trap organics and inorganics. In the early 1980's his research focused on 13C-NMR analysis of humic substances, soil organic matter, and whole soils. These experiments showed the importance of aliphatic C in these materials. In another application, Curie point-pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry was used in structural studies on humic and fulvic acids. This research resulted in the development of two-dimensional structural models for humic acids. In other investigations, Morris and his co-workers examined colloid-chemical properties of humic materials, mechanism of water retention, reaction with metals and minerals, and with organic pollutants including pesticides. A more comprehensive account of Morris' life-time research has been published in Advances in Agronomy 68: 1-58, 2000. Morris retired in January 1991 and was appointed Emeritus Distinguished Research Scientist by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. He continued his research until 2012. Over the years, Morris attracted about 30 visiting scientists from 15 different countries in addition to numerous Canadian scientists to work in his laboratory in Ottawa, Canada. Morris authored and co-authored more than 400 scientific papers in peer reviewed journals, 3 books including the first book ever published on humic substances in the environment and numerous book chapters on humic materials and soil organic matter.

Morris was awarded Fellowships by the Canadian Society of Soil Science (1971), Soil Science Society of America (1977), American Society of Agronomy (1977), Honorary Member, International Humic Substances Society (1982,1986), and Royal Society of Canada (1991 ). He received the Soil Science Award of the Soil Science Society of America in 1984, the Soil Science Distinguished Service Award of the Soil Science Society of America in 1995 and was awarded in Israel the Wolf Prize in Agriculture in 1996. He was chairman of Commission II (Soil Chemistry) of the International Society of Soil Science (1978 - 1982), and served on the editorial boards of the Canadian Journal of Soil Science, Soil Science and Geoderma.

Morris will be greatly missed by his friends, colleagues, co-workers and scientists all over the world involved in humic research. He is survived by his daughter Eve Schnitzer and her family.

Obituary provided by the Soil Science Society of Canada.


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Page created: 21.07.2021 | Page updated: 21.07.2021

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