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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter September 13, 2016

In Memoriam—Paul De Bièvre

From the journal Chemistry International


Paul De Bièvre was born in Blankenberge (Belgium) on 7 July 1933. He obtained his PhD from Gent University in 1959 where he continued to work as a lecturer until 1961. In 1961 he joined the Central Bureau for Nuclear Measurements of the European Commission (renamed Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements in 1994) where he was Head of the Isotope Measurement Unit until 1998 and Advisor to the Director until 2002.

In IUPAC, in addition of being for many years, an active member of the Belgian delegation present at the IUPAC Council, Paul was active in several Divisions and Committees, including the Inorganic Chemistry Division, the Analytical Chemistry Division, and the Committee on Chemistry and Industry. Paul attended his first Commission on Isotopic Abundances and Atomic Weights (CIAAW) meeting in Washington D.C. in 1971 and was elected Associate Member. He remained active member of the Commission throughout the next five decades. At the 1973 Munich meeting, Paul (and Norman E. Holden) proposed to form a Working Party to review the data on isotopic abundance measurements and their impact on atomic weights. This started an eight-year project for IUPAC on the assessment of our knowledge of the isotopic composition of the elements and led to what is now known as the Subcommittee on Isotopic Abundance Measurements with Paul as its inaugural Chair. Until earlier this year, Paul was also an active member of the Analytical Chemistry Division which meeting he attended this past March in Bratislava.

Paul’s early work in the Central Bureau for Nuclear Measurements focused on the isotope dilution method and he pioneered the uncertainty analysis in this area. The textbook equation describing the optimal sample-to-spike ratio in isotope dilution analysis (the geometric mean) derives, in fact, from his seminal analysis of isotope dilution equations in 1965 (with Debus). From the 1980s, he directed IRMM work on the improved measurements of the Avogadro constant through the single crystal route. This work, now led by PTB (Germany), forms an integral part of the proposed new International System of units (SI) which is set to be changed in 2018.

Paul was very active in the international activities of chemistry and he was a charter member of many international chemistry organizations, including the BIPM Consultative Committee on the Amount of Substance (CCQM). He was co-founder (1989) and President (1993-1995) of EURACHEM, co-founder (1992) of CITAC (“Co-operation on International Traceability in Analytical Chemistry”) (1992). In 1988 he was elected President of the National Committee on Chemistry of the Royal Academies of Belgium (1988-2006). He represented IUPAC to the Joint Committee for Guides in Metrology and has been active contributor to the 1998-2008 revision of the International Vocabulary of Metrology.

Paul had a penchant for philosophy of science and he believed that great measurements start with great thinking. His writings on metrology in chemistry appeared frequently in Accreditation and Quality Assurance (ACQUAL, Springer) of which he was the Founding Editor-in-Chief (1995). He was a straightforward, cheerful person and his colleagues fondly remember his passion for science. Talking science over hours in the rain at a bus stop was not unusual for those who were fortunate enough to have met him. He was an inspiration to generations of analytical chemists and his passion for the highest quality measurements and accuracy in communication will be lasting memories. Paul loved a good debate and this quality placed him at the centre of the decade-long discussions and debates on the redefinition of the SI unit for the amount of substance, the mole. Fittingly, he lived only 10 km away from the city called Mol.

Paul passed away on 14 April 2016 in Leuven at the age of 82.

“One of my Editorials in ACQUAL was triggered by the visit to Aveiro and Lisboa during which we made a walk along the Atlantic sea coast near Aveiro. That gave rise to an Editorial in ACQUAL with the title “Definitions of metrological concepts are lighthouses”*. I still see before my eyes the lighthouse at the entrance of the small port of that coastal village, serving as a beacon to create the metrological clarity with smallest possible target measurement uncertainty, needed for a safe “realization” of the set goal. You are co-guilty of that walk resulting in an enduring description of the function of a light tower in metrology and its understanding by the public.”

--Extract of Paul De Bièvre‘s letter of 29 Feb 2016 to Filomena Camoes,

former President of the IUPAC Analytical Chemistry Division.

*Accreditation and Quality Assurance, Dec 2010

Online erschienen: 2016-9-13
Erschienen im Druck: 2016-9-1

©2016 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston

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