A Farewell Letter to Professor Levine

Professor Ira N. Levine was a longtime faculty member in the Chemistry Department at Brooklyn College. He began his academic career at Brooklyn College in 1964 and became a full-time professor in 1978. Professor Levine taught first-year courses in general chemistry as well as advanced courses in physical and quantum chemistry. His research was in the field of microwave spectroscopy, and he is recognized for his influential textbooks, which include seven editions of Quantum Chemistry, seven editions of Solutions Manual to Quantum Chemistry, six editions of Physical Chemistry, six editions of Solutions Manual to Physical Chemistry, and a textbook on Molecular Spectroscopy. He passed away on December 17, 2015.

Professor Ira Levine, 1937-2015

Dear Professor Levine,

I still remember the first day of chemistry lecture. It was extremely hot and stuffy in that room, and the room was so packed that it was impossible to spot empty seats. The projector wasn’t working that day, so you had to write all the notes on the dirty chalkboards. For the first couple of weeks, my main concern was figuring out the best seat to get in the room so that I would be able to both see the board and hear your voice. I never thought this would be a class that I would miss, but that turned out to be the case.

I’m thankful for the fact that my memories of you won’t only involve listening to you in a crowded (or as the semester progressed, not-so-crowded) lecture hall. When I interviewed you for my first-year Macaulay assignment, I really didn’t expect much. I was extremely surprised when you said your hobby is dancing – specifically contra dance and English country dance – because that’s the last thing I would have expected my old, chemistry lecture professor to be into. I tried so hard to make the interview more like a conversation between two people, to which you gladly obliged. I only realize now that I’m reflecting on this, that I should have began to see your dedication to your students from my interview with you. When you told me that you were the one who vouched for the Chemistry major to have Computer Science as an optional course, I saw that you truly care about your students. You even seemed very interested in my goals and aspirations, recommending the Jamaica Bay Science and Resilience Institute to me for environmental chemistry research, and I’ll always be grateful for that. Furthermore, I’ll never forget the funny expression on your face when you asked me what my “Ball Is Life” and Brooklyn Nets wristbands mean.

A lot has changed since I interviewed you. Firstly, I’m no longer pursuing a career in environmental chemistry or the sciences at all; I’ll be going into sports journalism. But that’s okay, because chemistry will always have a special place in my heart. One day, I’ll figure out a way to incorporate chemistry into my sports writing. Now, that would really be living the dream. Secondly, the lecture hall has gotten a lot emptier in your absence. It’s awfully lonely in that room, and I found it difficult to go to lecture without you there. Unfortunately, I only realize now how important you were to the whole Brooklyn College community.

I failed to see the bigger picture until it was too late. At first, I only appreciated you for your easy exams and non-attendance mandatory lectures. It wasn’t until after your death that I realized how committed you were to your students. I still can’t believe that the day before your death, you sent an email to all your students, informing us that osmotic pressure will not be on the final exam. It hurts me to think that you kept on pushing us until the last second. I promise that I won’t remember you for your recycled exams or never-ending lectures, but I’ll always remember you for your dedication to your students.

Even after your death, one of my biggest worries, along with many other students’, was who would be making the final exam. I feel ashamed that this was even a concern. As my recitation instructor, Allen Gorbonos, said in an email, your main goal was “to teach students the proper way of understanding and interpreting chemistry, to ENJOY it, and because of that, it should not matter who wrote the final exam.” I still recall how you spent over twenty minutes emphasizing the definition of the mole and Avogadro’s number. For this reason, I feel embarrassed that I still don’t fully understand chemistry concepts to this day, and that I only understand how to do the math.

I feel even guiltier about not getting the most out of your class, for those lectures I skipped because I just wanted to sleep in on Mondays or because I just wanted to go home after 8 AM biology lab on Wednesdays. It wasn’t until after you left in mid-November that I realized how different lecture was without you. I terribly miss your sloppy handwriting on the screen, your funny jokes, you telling students to move to the back if they were talking, and seeing you stroll into the lecture hall wearing suspenders. I thought the funniest thing I saw this semester was you in those suspenders because you looked oddly fashionable.

Room 2310 Ingersoll won’t be the same without you.


Sandy Mui

9 thoughts on “A Farewell Letter to Professor Levine”

  1. Ira Levine was a great professor, he knew how to push his students to get the best out of them.
    He taught me on the chemistry as one of my graduate course. We had a quiz in the very second lecture, and I scored 28/40. Professor Levine emailed me saying ” I think you should drop the class”. That made me put a lot of effort to prove myself, I did not drop the class, I did my best and it was in A. I don’t think the outcome would have been the same if it wasn’t for his email, and his dedication to the students.

  2. The most important book I read is Quantum Chemistry by Levine. It made time I was trying to introduce myself to quantum chemistry. After finding the book I moved from biochemistry to theoretical chemistry.

  3. The first book in chemistry that I studied by myself in 1992 was the quantum chemistry of Levine. It was interesting for me, because it had a mathematical nature. This book can be recommend as a standard quantum textbook for freshmen, but for general perspective, Atkin’s physical chemistry is highly recommend even for PhD students.

  4. I recall Ira as a fellow student at Carnegie Institute of Technology (CMU) in the 1050s. Ira was a brilliant student looked up to by others. I recall his studied demeaner and steady focus on studies. My estimate at the time was that Ira would be around a very long time based on this sense of dedication. A great professor with a serious concern for all students, and we all will miss him.
    William C

  5. Sigo, y seguiremos aprendiendo de sus extraordinarios libros de fisicoquímica y química cuántica. Su legado permanecerá por siempre.

    Un estudiante chileno.

  6. It is sad to know that he died already in 2015. I have not used his Physical Chemistry book in my college days. But now that I am working, I tried to have a copy of the sixth edition and I’m currently reading it to refresh my knowledge on Physical Chemistry.

    Regards to all.

    From Iloilo, Philippines

  7. I really enjoyed your book Quimica Fisica in Spanish, with that little joke on the first chapter.

    Thank you Ira Levine, wherever you are now.

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