Karl Seff was born in Chicago on Jan 23, 1938. His parents were Joseph Seff who was born in the Ukraine and his mother was Rayzel, aka Rose, who was born in Poland on July 4, 1900. At an early age Karl’s family moved to Penngrove CA, where Karl grew up on a chicken farm. Karl was the only child of Joseph and Rose. Karl was an active member of the Cactus and Succulent Society of Hawaii and the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii. His cactus and succulent garden have been featured in local publications.

Karl received his BS in chemistry at UC Berkeley in 1959 and then earned a PhD working with David P. Shoemaker at MIT in 1964. Karl carried out his postdoctoral work with Kenneth N Trueblood at UCLA before joining UH as an Assistant Professor in 1967. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1973 and to Professor in 1975. During his tenure as Department Chair from 2000 to 2003, Karl was the driving forces in upgrading the experimental physical chemistry infrastructure in Bilger Hall to standards of the 21st century. During his career, Karl was a visiting Scholar at Princeton in 1974, the University of Mexico in 1982, Oxford and Dartmouth in 1989 and Korea in 1996 to explore the structures and chemistry of zeolites.

In his years at UH Karl directed the research of 19 MS and 12 PhD students. Of his former students, Lynne McCusker holds a faculty position at ETH in Zuerich Switzerland, Nam Ho Heo at Kyungpook National University in Korea, and Yang Kim at Pusan National University. During his time at UH, Karl exploited zeolites as unique hosts of novel organic and inorganic molecules, many of them which are unstable under classical atmospheric conditions. Key findings were the synthesis of organic, cyclic tri-cations isoelectronic to benzene, i.e. [C3O3H3]3+, and inorganic cyclic molecules such as the first identification of triazacyclopropane [N3H3]. His research results were disseminated in The Journal of Physical Chemistry and in The Journal of the American Chemical Society. Google Scholar lists Karl’s h-index as 52. Karl retired from UH in 2007, and continued his research activity with a research output exceeding the vast majority of the UH chemistry faculty until six weeks prior to his death on Sept 11, 2021.

  • Tribute by Roger Cramer and Ralf Kaiser