In Memoriam: Russell J. Rowlett, Jr. (1920-2006)

(Chemical Information Bulletin vol. 59, No. 1, Spring 2007)


Dr. Russell J. Rowlett, Jr., a former Editor of Chemical Abstracts (CA) and a pioneer in chemical information science, passed away on November 17, 2006, at the age of 86.

He graduated from the University of Virginia with three degrees, a B.S., a M.S., and Ph.D. in Chemistry.

Dr. Rowlett first became associated with CA in 1946, when as an industrial research chemist he became a volunteer abstractor. It did not take long for the CA Editor E. J. Crane to invite him to join CA on a full-time basis. He worked there from 1947 to 1952 on indexing organic-chemistry abstracts.

In 1952, he returned to his native Virginia and to industry as patent coordinator for Virginia-Carolina Chemical Corporation and rose to become its Director of Research and Development. In 1960, he became Assistant Director of the Virginia Institute of Scientific Research. He also resumed his association with CAS serving as a consultant to CAS on indexing. The subdivision of the large CA Index headings into "categories" and "qualifiers", as we know them today, was the result of his recommendations and experimentation. He presented the proposed improvements at the 5th CAS Open Forum at the 151st ACS National Meeting in Pittsburgh in March 1966.

When Dr. Rowlett returned to CAS in 1967, he became the CAS Editor, and in 1979 the Director of CAS Publications and Services, a position he held until his retirement in 1982. A farewell dinner was hosted by the ACS at the 184th ACS National Meeting in Kansas City in September 1982, where Jean G. Marcali, the 1982 CINF Chair, officially represented CINF and spoke about his achievements.

He was an active member of the ACS Division of Chemical Information (CINF) and attended all the ACS and CINF meetings during that period.

He participated in CINF symposia and presented papers, mostly related to the progress in modernizing the CAS operations, and on explaining and promoting CAS policies and practices.

In 1983, Dr. Rowlett received the CINF Herman Skolnik Award, and the citation read:

"For guiding Chemical Abstracts' transition from a manually produced abstracting and indexing publication to a computer-generated family of products and for his leadership in the improvement of patent coverage, the CAS Registry System, timeliness of CA Volume and Collective Indexes, and quality control through a shift from volunteer abstractors to full-time professional document analysts utilizing to the fullest extent man-machine interactions."

Other honors included a Presidential Citation for research during World War II, the Distinguished Service Award of the Virginia Academy of Science, the Board of Visitors Research Award of the University of Virginia, and the Miles Conrad Lecture Award of the National Federation of Abstracting and Information Services (NFAIS). He was President of NFAIS in 1977-1978.

His earliest papers, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in 1946-1948 were on the synthesis of antimalarial drugs. His first paper related to chemical information science, published in 1968, on "Computer Pathways to Chemical Information" discussed at some length the path the CAS would take to make "chemical and chemical engineering information widely available to the scientific community in an economic, timely, and useable form".

In the same year, he presented a paper on "Training Chemists in the Use of Chemical Abstracts' Services" at the CINF symposium at the 156th ACS National Meeting in Atlantic City in September 1968.

Dr. Rowlett was an outspoken promoter of CAS editorial practices and policies, especially in response to outside criticism of the revised CA Index names (more systematic) for the 9th Collective Period in 1972. At the CINF symposium on "User Reactions to CAS Data and Bibliographic Services", presented at the 169th ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia in April 1965, he said, among other things, that he regretted that he "just did not have the intestinal fortitude to go all the way" to eliminate all the trivial names such as formic acid, phenol, and hydrazine.

It is not surprising that Dr. Rowlett was a strong advocate for creating and including abstracts in the chemical databases. His Miles Conrad Memorial Lecture, delivered at the NFAIS 23rd Annual Conference in Arlington, Virginia, in March 1981, was on the topic "Abstracts, Who Needs Them?", and his last published paper in the 25th anniversary issue of the Journal of Chemical Information and Computer Sciences in 1985, was on "Abstracts and Other Information Filters".

After his retirement in 1982 to South Carolina, he enjoyed his hobby of color photography and the recipients of his Christmas cards can attest to his skills.

Those of us who knew him and worked with him will always remember his devotion to the profession and his ever present bow tie.

W. Val Metanomski, CINF Archivist/Historian