PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University will honor two of its most prestigious, internationally recognized science alumni, Philip Abelson and the late Neva Abelson, when Science Hall is named for the couple, long-time WSU supporters.
A public naming ceremony, featuring a presentation by Philip Abelson, is set for 2 p.m. Sept. 6, on the plaza between Abelson and Eastlick Halls.
A nuclear research pioneer and promoter of scientific research, Philip Abelson, 89, lives in Washington, D.C. Neva Abelson helped develop a critical blood factor test that is used worldwide. They both received the prestigious WSU Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award, he in 1962 and she in 1989.
The couple met at WSU where they earned chemistry bachelor degrees, he in 1933 and she in 1934. Philip Abelson, a Tacoma native and graduate of Lincoln High School, received a WSU physics master’s degree in 1935. They married in 1936. Philip Abelson’s nuclear physics Ph.D. (1939) is from the University of California at Berkeley.
His career includes playing a leadership role in the development of the nuclear submarine, serving as president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C., from 1971-78, and as editor of Science magazine from 1962-85.
Neva Abelson, who died in 2000, was one of the first women to graduate with a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University. During her career, while in Boston she co-developed a single test for the Rh blood factor. Resulting in safer blood transfusions, this discovery has saved the lives of millions of adults and infants. She also did research involving blood group antibodies, blood diseases of infants and the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has been recognized with highest honors from the American Association of Blood Banks.
Philip Abelson’s diverse interests are reflected in the numerous scientific and technical committees, organizations and societies with which he has been affiliated. He has had a distinguished scientific career making major contributions in chemistry, physics, biochemistry, geophysics and medicine. Abelson also is the author and editor of several books.
Neva and Philip Abelson both provided endowed support for graduate fellowships that have provided funding for many students each year. Philip Abelson also established the Paul Anderson Distinguished Professorship of Physics.
Philip Abelson also has been honored with several major awards. He received the President’s National Medal of Science, a Distinguished Public Service Award from the National Science Foundation and the Science Achievement Award from the American Medical Association. In 1945, he received the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal.
The Abelson family has more WSU connections. Philip’s father, Olaf, and brother, Harold, earned bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering in 1909 and 1934 respectively, while his mother, Ellen, took classes at WSU.
The family has an impressive scientific background. It includes Philip and Neva’s daughter, Ellen A. Cherniavsky, Silver Spring, Md. She holds a Ph.D. in Operations Research from Cornell University and is a senior engineer in the Center for Advanced Aviation System Development with MITRE, a corporation providing systems engineering, research and development, and information technology support to the government.
Their nephew is John Abelson, WSU 1960 physics, a California Institute of Technology professor emeritus. John’s wife is geneticist Christine Guthrie, professor of biochemistry at the University of California San Francisco. The WSU Abelson Family Lecture, was funded by their endowed gift. The lecture series honors members of his family, many of whom are closely linked to WSU.
Also, the family includes John’s brother, LeRoy Abelson (WSU 1965), and his father, the late Harold Abelson (WSU 1934), both WSU engineering graduates and highly respected professional civil engineers.