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Bruce Kowalski

Dec 3, 2012

I was sitting in a cubicle in the United Club at Chicago O’Hare when I learned of Bruce Kowalski’s passing. The news was not unexpected, but it was still tough, in part due to my whereabouts in a busy place but with no friends or family. Additional memories factored in: I had also been in a United Club cubical when I heard of my father’s death. But this was especially ironic because Bruce was the reason I was there in the first place, on my way to Lille for ChemomeTRIcS in Time-Resolved and Imaging Spectroscopy.

I met Bruce on what turned out to be the most pivotal day of my life, October 1, 1985. My existence divides between everything that came before that day and everything that came after. It was my first day of graduate school, the day I started learning about chemometrics, and also the day I met my friend and business partner Neal Gallagher. Bruce introduced me to the discipline that I became immediately enamored with and have spent my working life on. Bruce also introduced me to his then Post-Doc Dave Veltkamp and his wife Diane who in turn introduced me to my wife, Jill. This accounts for pretty much everything else in my present life.

An “idea guy” who’s enthusiasm was infectious, Bruce’s achievements include co-founding, with Svante Wold, the field of chemometrics, and co-founding, with Jim Callis, the Center for Process Analytical Chemistry. The full breadth of Kowalski’s influence is really too big to capture in this small space and couldn’t be done without substantial research. But as an example of his influence in one area I submit a graphic prepared by Pieter Kroonenberg and presented at TRICAP 2000. The “Kowalski Web” demonstrates that, for the field of Multi-way Analyisis in Chemistry and as far as it has become connected to Multi-way Analysis in Psychology, all the connections lead to Bruce, the center of the web. If this graphic were updated today Bruce would still be at the center, but it would be much larger!

I could go on and on about Bruce’s influence. At least two software companies exist today because of him, Infometrix and Eigenvector. Chemometrics has enabled the development of countless sensor systems and greatly expanded applications of spectroscopy, especially NIR. The methodologies promoted by Bruce have become so pervasive that quantifying their impact would be a very large exercise.

Bruce taught me lots of things, both chemometricly and otherwise. The chemometric stuff is (I hope) obvious, so I’ll let that speak for itself. Beyond that, though, Bruce taught me to think big, that a good idea can’t be stopped, that it is important what you name things, to be magnanimous, and to spread the credit around. Bruce was always really good at talking up the people that worked for him. He found the best in people, let them know it, and then let other people know about it too. I’ve benefited greatly from that, as have many others. I hope that I’m as good with my staff as Bruce always was with his. And I strive to be as forward-looking, positive and fun to be around.

Farewell, Bruce. A little bit of you will live on in each of very many of us. You will remain in our thoughts and prayers.