The Right Chemistry

Dr. Kurt and Bee ShulerDr. Kurt and Bee Shuler have wonderful stories of UC San Diego that go back to 1967, when he was lured away from his position as Assistant Director and Senior Research Fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Maryland to chair the Chemistry Department at this fledgling university.

It was a time of unrest on many college campuses, and Kurt, now Professor Emeritus, tells a story about the student group that marched into his office one day demanding that the campus police wear tennis shoes. "Tennis shoes!" he remembers. "When they were having their sit-ins, they were unhappy that they would get hurt when the campus police came through in boots!" Kurt was also present at the first watermelon drop - a physics experiment that has become an annual tradition.

The Shulers share a wonderful sense of humor, and it is clear that Bee has put up with a good deal of teasing since the two met on a blind date in 1943. (They married in 1944.) Bee is a gentlewoman from Virginia who still has a southern lilt in her speech. She met Kurt in Atlanta, his home where he earned a B.S. degree in Chemistry at Georgia Institute of Technology in 1942. Just five years earlier, Kurt had emigrated to the U.S. alone as a 15-year-old; he later brought his parents over from Germany, before Hitler made escape impossible for the Jews. During World War II, Kurt served in military intelligence in the Italian Campaign. After the war, he went on to earn his Ph.D. from Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C., and postdoc'ed at Johns Hopkins from 1949 to 1952.

From a career that spanned federal service at NIST and the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA), industrial consulting and academia, Kurt was recruited to UC San Diego in 1967. In 1968, they built their house in Rancho Santa Fe, in which they still live today. In fact, they've lived in "that house" even longer: To make Bee more agreeable to the move to California, Kurt brought out their architect from Maryland to create an exact replica of the home they built there in 1963. "That's why all our furniture fits so well," says Kurt.

Kurt, a theoretical chemist credited with developing chemical lasers and co-developing the technology used to build the first regenerable carbon monoxide detector, taught at UC San Diego from 1967 to 1991. He was chair of the department from 1968 to 1970 and from 1984 to 1987. Kurt is very proud of the students he's launched and maintains ties with many of them, now highly accomplished and award-winning scientists. And although he doesn't miss classrooms of 600 students, he and Bee stay connected to students and the university in other ways.

Since their first gift of $25 in 1971, Bee and Kurt have also been steady donors to the university, and by remembering UC San Diego in their estate plans, the Shulers are creating an extraordinarily generous legacy of sustainability for their passion: the sciences and higher education at UC San Diego.