In Memoriam: Thomas Schleich (1938–2020)

To: UC Santa Cruz Community

From: Ilan Benjamin and Glenn Millhauser, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

tom-schleich-300.jpg
Thomas Schleich

It is with deep sadness that we report the passing of our wonderful colleague Professor Thomas Schleich. Born in 1938 and originally from Staten Island, New York, Tom received his bachelor's degree from Cornell University and his Ph.D. from Rockefeller University. After graduate school, he moved to Dartmouth University and then the University of Oregon, where he pursued postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Professor Peter von Hippel, specializing in biophysical chemistry.

Tom joined the UCSC faculty in 1969 and initiated a groundbreaking research program focused on the application of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) approaches for studying protein structure and dynamics. As his research matured, Tom narrowed his attention to the unique proteins of the eye lens, which are remarkably dense in concentration yet avoid crystallization or aggregation. Tom pioneered a technique known as off-resonance rotating-frame relaxation measurements for determining how eye lens proteins move and tumble in their natural environment. In turn, these elegant approaches provided deep molecular insights into vision processes and how such processes fail in conditions such as cataracts. As a testament to the importance of his research, Tom maintained years of steady funding from the National Institutes of Health. Moreover, in collaboration with Professor Phillip Crews, Tom raised federal and private funds to establish the first instruments in what is now a thriving UCSC NMR Facility.

Beyond his research, Tom was a generous and selfless mentor to his graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and young chemistry colleagues. As a research advisor, Tom guided a number of outstanding young scientists to their graduate degrees. Several of these students have gone on to highly successful academic careers. As a chemistry colleague, Tom served three separate terms as department chair, guiding the department’s growth and the hiring of outstanding young faculty. While in this leadership role, Tom’s door was always open to any of us seeking advice on negotiating the twists and turns of academic life.

We remember Tom as an incredibly warm, outgoing colleague with an infectious, booming laugh that echoed through the chemistry halls. He exuded a love of science and academics, which set the stage for the collegial, forward-thinking environment that characterizes the current Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Tom was a true leader. Even after he retired, Tom routinely came back to the department to catch up with current research, meet new faculty, and look over new instrumentation—especially NMR spectrometers! Tom was also an accomplished photographer and printmaker, with works featured in annual and juried shows around the Santa Cruz community. Those of us who knew Tom feel incredibly fortunate to have had him in our lives.

Tom is survived by his wife, Annelies de Kater, and stepdaughter Rachel Truesdell.