Each spring, a graduating senior majoring in chemistry at Macalester College is awarded the Slowinski Prize in Experimental Chemistry. It’s an honor named for Emil Slowinski, the beloved professor who taught at the St. Paul college for more than 24 years.
Slowinski was the author of “Chemistry Principles,” which was first published in 1965 and went on to become one of the bestselling and most innovative textbooks on the subject. He also co-authored a companion lab manual that was used in colleges nationwide and by high school students enrolled in advanced placement courses. The manual is now in its 11th edition.
“It was a groundbreaking book for its day,” Macalester chemistry Prof. Tom Varberg said of the textbook. “It was reviewed favorably and used at a lot of schools. That shows how successful it was.”
Slowinski died of congestive heart failure at the N.C. Little Hospice in Edina on Oct. 13, a day after his 93rd birthday.
Emil Slowinski was born in Newark, N.J., in 1922 and grew up in Massachusetts. He was a “tall, skinny guy who was good in science and math,” said his wife of 64 years, Emily, of Minneapolis. He took his interest in science to Massachusetts State College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He served in the Army during World War II as a radio repair man for Radio Luxembourg, one of the earliest commercial radio stations, which broadcast to Ireland and Britain. After his discharge, he earned his doctoral degree in physical chemistry from MIT.
Slowinski could have taken his skills into the private sector but opted for a career in teaching because “he wanted to learn how to speak to groups,” his wife said. That led him to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where he met his wife, and then to the University of Connecticut. In 1964, Macalester called and offered him a job. He accepted because he liked the idea of working at a small college with high standards where he could make connections with people across the entire campus, Emily Slowinski said.
Slowinski retired from Macalester in 1988.
“He was viewed as an excellent teacher, a good communicator and a smart guy,” said Varberg, who called Slowinski one of his mentors. “He was technically skilled and had a good sense of what would work. Alums were quite fond of him.”
Slowinski took advantage of three sabbaticals to study abroad. In 1960, he went to Oxford University as a National Science Foundation fellow. In later years, he studied at the University of Warsaw in Poland and the University of Christchurch in New Zealand.
Not much of one for team sports, Slowinski took a liking to tennis. It was a lunchtime hobby he shared with other faculty members. “I quickly picked up on the dangers of the Slowinski underhand drop shot,” said retired Macalester music Prof. Carleton Macy, who played with and against the lefthander for 25 years. “With a major windmill windup, he would stripe the ball back at you with such topspin and speed that all you could do was watch as it skidded by for a point.”
Slowinski enjoyed traveling the world, camping and bicycling. He donated to many charities. A Quaker since 1951, he was a longtime member of the Twin Cities Friends and served on many of its committees, his wife said.
In addition to his wife, Slowinski is survived by three sons, David, of Chippewa Falls, Wis., Walter, of Brattleboro, Vt., and Nathan, of Fort Collins, Colo.; two daughters, Amy Nesse, of Sartell, Minn., and Marya Slowinski, of Eugene, Ore.; 10 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Nov. 21 at the Macalester College Chapel, 1600 Grand Av., St. Paul.