Dr. Cava, Chemistry

Dr. Michael P. Cava, former professor of chemistry, died September 29, 2011, in Brookline, MA. He was 84 years old.

Born in Brooklyn, Dr. Cava earned a BS in chemistry from Harvard University in 1946, and a PhD in 1951 from the University of Michigan.

From 1951 to 1953 he was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard, where he collaborated with Professor Robert B. Woodward on a publication describing the total synthesis of strychnine.

He moved on to Ohio State University (1953-1965), where he rose through the ranks of assistant, associate, then full professor. He then taught at Wayne State University from 1965-69.

He came to Penn in 1965 and remained here until 1985, when he accepted the Ramsay Chair of Chemistry at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. He held that position until his retirement in 2004.

At Penn, he was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of organic chemistry ranging from natural products to organic metals and conducting polymers. “He was an amazing individual who had a prodigious memory and an encyclopedic knowledge of organic chemistry,” said Dr. Madeleine M. Joullié, professor of chemistry. He extracted and characterized many rare natural products from marine and terrestrial sources worldwide. Many of these originated from Central America and Brazil, where he traveled extensively. He visited India, Switzerland, Brazil, and France during research leaves and as a Guggenheim Fellow (1984-1985). He was fluent in French, German and Portuguese. Dr. Cava published almost 500 papers, and a popular organic chemistry textbook with his colleagues from Wayne State University. He supervised over 80 PhD dissertations and mentored more than 100 post-doctoral research associates from many countries.

He is survived by his wife, Armelle Guinard, his son, John, and granddaughter, Sophie Rose.