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In memorium: Professor Henry Albert Bent, 1926-2015

Henry Albert Bent, a former professor of inorganic chemistry at the University of Minnesota, died in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015, at the age of 88. He was born on Dec. 21, 1926, in Cambridge, MA, and was educated at the University of Missouri, Oberlin College (Bachelor of Arts degree, 1949), and the University of California at Berkeley (doctorate in physical chemistry, 1952). During World War II, he served as a radar technician in the U.S. Navy.  

Bent was a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Connecticut and North Carolina State University, professor of inorganic chemistry at the University of Minnesota from 1958-1969, and director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Van Outreach Program for taking demonstration-experiments to students throughout the Pittsburgh area. He wrote, The Second Law: An Introduction to Classical and Statistical Thermodynamics (Oxford 1966), and developed “Bent’s Rule” on hybridization and valence bond structures. He was the recipient of several leading awards in chemical education, and was a popular lecturer on topics ranging from flames and explosions to science and abstract art. He offered a National Science Foundation-supported short course for college teachers on “Thermodynamics, Art, Poetry, and the Environment” in which he introduced the entropy ethic: live leanly; do not create entropy unnecessarily. Most recently, he wrote a book on the Periodic Law and one titled, Molecules and the Chemical Bond.

His undying enthusiasm and love of atoms and molecules was a driving force in his work and his life. His long career in chemistry culminated in unconventional ideas such as helium’s placement over beryllium in the periodic table, the use of valence sphere models to create electron density profiles in molecules, and teaching through demonstration-experiments. The latter was inspired by his father Henry E. Bent, who was famous for his demonstrations and experiments and his Christmas lectures on flames and explosions at the University of Missouri.

He spent a series of summers with his family starting in 1948 building, by hand, a log cabin in northern Minnesota, which is now being enjoyed by 3rd and 4th generation Bents. An avid runner and adventurer, he ran his first marathon when he was in his 50s in under three hours, and took long expeditions in the north woods by canoe and by foot.

Bent is survived by his wife of 55 years, Anne; daughter Libby Weberg of Duluth MN; four grandchildren, Rachel and Drew Bent, and Kirsten and Alex Weberg. He was preceded in death by his son Brian, a chemistry professor at Columbia University.