In Memoriam: Otto P. Strausz, 1924-2019

10 June 2019

It is with profound sadness that we announce that Otto Strausz passed away on May 14, 2019 in Toronto. Otto was born in Miskolc, Hungary on January 29, 1924. In 1942 he was drafted for labor service by the Hungarian government, and in October 1944 was deported to the concentration camp in Mauthausen, Austria, where he contracted typhoid fever. He was freed by the American army in April 1945 and nursed back to health. He returned to Budapest in August 1945.

Otto was a dedicated student who put himself through school and finished his BSc degree in 1952 from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. He worked for a couple of years in industry and then started work on his PhD degree. Before he was able to defend his thesis, the 1956 Hungarian uprising began in October. Otto took advantage of the ensuing chaos, and after a few harrowing days and nights near the border, he escaped into Austria in early November. He made his way to Canada, arriving in Halifax in February 1957, but was detained there for a month for testing to ensure that the tuberculosis, from which he had previously suffered, was no longer contagious. Otto arrived in Edmonton in March of that year, and he spent six months doing odd jobs and learning English. In November he started work as a technician in the Provincial Analyst's laboratory. After several months his wife Kathy arrived and took his place in the Analyst's laboratory. Otto then began to work on his PhD in chemistry here at the University of Alberta. Unfortunately, his graduate work in Hungary was not recognized, and he was thus required to take a number of courses. He obtained his PhD in 1962, working with Professor Gunning (this was one of the first 20 PhDs in chemistry to be awarded following creation of the degree in 1959). Otto immediately took a position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta, and he rose through the ranks to Full Professor in 1973. Following a long and fruitful career he retired August 31, 1989 and became Professor Emeritus.

Otto was an internationally renowned scientist, as well as a caring and compassionate supervisor. His research work focused first in the area of photochemistry and later in the chemistry of the oil sands. He published over 300 articles and reviews. He served as editor of several journals, organized many symposia, and served on numerous international scientific committees. His work with heavy oil was particularly important to Alberta and culminated in 2003 with the publishing of book "The Chemistry of Alberta Oil Sands, Bitumens and Heavy Oils", which is something of a bible for those working in the area. Otto's work was recognized with a number of awards over his career, including becoming a Fellow of the Chemical Institute of Canada (1973), a corresponding member of the European Academy of Arts and Sciences (1983), and the E. W. R. Steacie Award in Photochemistry from the Chemical Institute of Canada (1987).

Otto will be very much missed by his family, colleagues, students, and all that knew him.