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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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Diane Smith Diane Smith

In Memoriam: Diane Smith

An SDSU chemistry professor for 30 years, Smith was an early role model for women in science.
By Sarah White

The San Diego State University College of Sciences and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry are deeply saddened by the passing of Diane Smith, professor of chemistry and treasured mentor. She died October 24 from scleroderma.

Smith was the first woman hired into a tenure track position in the department and was an inspiration to women pursuing careers in science throughout 30 years at SDSU.

She joined the department in 1990 and for several years taught CHEM 201 (General Chemistry).

In addition, she served as the chair of the department’s curriculum committee for decades, relentlessly advocating for the university’s educational mission overall and the master’s in chemistry program in particular.

Her enthusiastic instruction and caring guidance touched the lives of numerous students, influencing several to choose to major in chemistry and preparing undergraduate and graduate students alike to pursue careers in academia and industry.

“I knew Diane as a teacher, collaborator, and colleague," said Jeff Gustafson (‘06), an SDSU chemistry and biochemistry professor. "I changed my major to chemistry in 2002 while taking her CHEM 201 course. I remember at the end of CHEM 201 that year she received a standing ovation from the class.”

A few weeks prior to her death, Smith was pleasantly surprised to be awarded the Jaroslav Heyrovsky prize for Molecular Electrochemistry by the International Society of Electrochemistry. She was nominated and selected for this award because of her illustrious career investigating methods to couple electron and proton transfer in reversible organic redox reactions.

Her work informed the development of drugs to fight anaerobic microbial infections, among other advancements in the field. Upon notification of the award, her colleagues in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry and across the university were quick to bestow congratulations for the well-deserved international recognition.

“Diane was a special person, an unbelievably talented chemist, modest about her accomplishments and a dedicated mentor to students," said Jeff Roberts, College of Sciences dean and professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “She will be much missed.”

“I remember how excited we all were when we successfully recruited Diane to join the chemistry faculty in 1990 since we all knew that she was already a star in her field," said Bill Tong, SDSU vice provost and professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. "Diane was a wonderful professor and mentor, an outstanding scientist, and an amazing person. She inspired us and generations of students as one of the top electrochemists in the country and the first woman chemistry professor at SDSU. She was a role model for all of us.”

Memories of Diane Smith may be shared through the Sorrento Valley Chapel. SDSU's Counseling & Psychological Services has resources available for anyone that needs help in the grieving process.

Plans for a celebration of life are pending; this article will be updated when details are available.