Isaiah Shavitt

CHAMPAIGN – Isaiah Shavitt, 87, died at 7:50 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 8, 2012) at Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Sinai Temple, 3104 Windsor Road, Champaign, Rabbi Normal Klein officiating, with internment following at Mount Hope Cemetery, 611 E. Pennsylvania Ave., Champaign.

Isaiah (Shi) Shavitt was born in Kutno, Poland, on July 29, 1925, to Zvi and Chava Kruk. In 1929, he and his mother moved to what was then Palestine, where his father had immigrated in 1926 to prepare a new life for his family. Shi was raised in Haifa. He met and married Vera Neuwirth in 1957.

He is survived by his beloved family, including his wife Vera, his daughter Sharon and son-in-law Steve Zimmerman, and two granddaughters, Arielle and Ellie, all of Champaign; and his brother Yisrael and family of Kiryat Motzkin, Israel.

Professor Shavitt began his studies at the Israel Institute of Technology, better known as the Technion. His studies were interrupted by his service in 1948-1949 in Israel's War of Independence. Professor Shavitt completed his B.Sc. in 1950 and a diploma in engineering a year later; both degrees were in chemical engineering. He received a British Council Scholarship for study in Britain, and earned his Ph.D. in 1957 in theoretical chemistry at Cambridge University. Professor Shavitt carried out some of the first computational chemistry studies on an early computer called the EDSAC-I, which operated on vacuum tubes. He sometimes needed to crawl inside the computer to replace them manually, and he often had to repeat calculations just to ensure they were correct.

He taught in the Chemistry Department of the Technion (1957-58 and 1962-67). In the interim period, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin and an assistant professor at Brandeis University. While at Brandeis, the Shavitts had their first and only child, Sharon, in 1959.

Professor Shavitt was then recruited to the IBM Watson Laboratory at Columbia University from 1960-62. He joined the Columbus Laboratories of Battelle Memorial Institute as research leader in 1967, serving concurrently as adjunct professor of chemistry at the Ohio State University. He transferred to Ohio State full-time in 1981, and retired as emeritus professor in 1994. He was adjunct professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois since 1996.

Professor Shavitt was a pioneer in the field of theoretical chemistry and widely regarded as one of the founders of computational chemistry. Professor Thom Dunning, director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, noted, "It was Shi and his generation that laid the foundation for the use of digital computers to obtain rigorous solutions to the electronic Schroedinger equation."

Professor Shavitt's major contributions were in the development of efficient and effective methods to treat electron correlation and in applying these methods to a broad range of chemistry problems. In this work, he made major contributions in the field of configuration interaction (CI) calculations of molecular electronic structure and helped develop a system of computer programs, widely distributed under the name COLUMBUS, that are capable of calculations involving many millions of terms in the CI expansion.

In 2009, together with his co-author, Professor Rodney Bartlett, Professor Shavitt published a definitive reference book, "Many-Body Methods in Chemistry and Physics," detailing an important theoretical approach to determining molecular structure, properties and interactions.

In 2001, Professor and Mrs. Shavitt moved full time to Champaign to be near their family; his daughter Sharon Shavitt and son-in-law Steven Zimmerman joined the University of Illinois faculty in 1987 and 1985, respectively.

Shi enjoyed puzzles of all kinds and completed the New York Times crossword puzzle daily, very rarely needing assistance, except with clues relating to sports. He loved traveling, limericks and the poems of Ogden Nash. But most of all he loved spending time with his family.

Professor Shavitt noted that the best decision of his life was marrying Vera. He was a loving and supportive father and a doting grandfather. He was an extraordinary scholar and intellect, but humble, generous and kind in his interactions with students, colleagues and anyone he met.

Arrangements are being handled by Morgan Memorial Home,1304 Regency Drive West, Savoy.

In lieu of other expressions of sympathy, a fund is being set up in Professor Shavitt's honor at the Technion, with details to follow.

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