In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Ron Hites

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Distinguished Professor Emeritus Ron Hites on January 5, 2024. Prof. Hites held a joint appointment in the Environmental Sciences program of the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and in the Department of Chemistry from 1979-2020. A memorial symposium is being planned by the O’Neill School.

Professor Hites received his B.A. degree in 1964 from Oakland University in Michigan. Subsequently, he studied organic analytical chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Klaus Biemann, earning his Ph. D. in 1968. Ron was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and returned to MIT as a staff researcher in 1969. He was appointed Assistant Professor at MIT in 1972 and associate professor in 1976. Ron joined Indiana University as a Professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Chemistry Department in 1979. He was appointed Distinguished Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs in 1989 and a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in 1997. He supervised the research of about 90 graduate students and postdocs; of those, 48 were Chemistry graduate students, including 28 IU Chemistry Ph.D. students.

Ron was a pioneer in applying mass spectrometry to environmental problems. His earliest work focused on developing computer-driven acquisition, processing, and interpretation to make mass spectrometry a practical detector for gas chromatography. He then applied GC-MS to the analysis of environmental pollutants in a vast array of matrices. He developed several chemical ionization techniques to increase the specificity of GC-MS to facilitate environmental analyses. These measurements enabled his group to develop models for global deposition and transport of pollutants to locations very far removed from their sources. He also studied the atmospheric transport of these chemicals throughout the environment as well as performing fundamental studies on the reactivity of many classes of pollutants with environmental oxidants (e.g., hydroxyl radical and ozone). His most recent work used GC tandem-MS to analyze trace levels of potentially toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes basin, including discontinued and alternative flame retardants, polychlorinated biphenyls, organochlorine pesticides, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Ron co-wrote or edited six books and coauthored 425 journal articles, book chapters, reports, and perspectives.

Ron’s work was widely recognized by researchers in the analytical chemistry, environmental science, and toxicology fields. He was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1996), a Charter Fellow of the American Chemical Society (2009), and a Charter Fellow of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (2014, Board of Directors 1997-2000). He also received the Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Sciences from the American Chemical Society (1991), the Founders Award from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (1993), and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association for Great Lakes Research (2016, President 2008-9, Board of Directors 2006-2010). He spearheaded the creation of the Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry while serving as president of ASMS from 1988-1990; the Ron Hites Award is given annually for the most exemplary paper published in the most recent volumes of this journal. Ron was Associate Editor for the journal Environmental Science and Technology from 1990-2019 and Associate Editor of the Journal of Great Lakes Research from 2018-2023. Indiana University recognized Ron’s contributions with the Bicentennial Medal in 2020. In 2022 the O’Neill School inaugurated the Ron Hites Prize in Environmental Science which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions toward solving complex environmental problems.