April 8, 1911–January 8, 1997
BY GLENN T. SEABORG AND ANDREW A. BENSON
MELVIN CALVIN DIED IN Berkeley on January 8, 1997, at the age of eighty-five from a heart attack following years of declining health. He was widely known for his mental intensity, skill in asking questions, and impressive presentation of his research and ideas.
During the period 1946-57 Calvin directed laboratories utilizing radiocarbon-14 and other radioisotopes in the University of California's Radiation Laboratory, founded by Ernest Orlando Lawrence. Among his achievements was the delineation of the path of carbon in photosynthesis, for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1961. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1954. Among his many honors were the Priestley Medal of the American Chemical Society in 1978, the U.S. National Medal of Science in 1989, and the Davy Medal of the Royal Society in 1964.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Melvin Calvin was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant father and a mother from Russian Georgia; they ran a small grocery store in Detroit, where young Melvin helped while going to Central High School. He became intrigued by the products on sale in the store, began to wonder what they were made of, and early on recognized the importance of chemistry in their makeup. Deciding to be a chemist, Melvin received his B.S. in 1931