Larry F. Dahl

Position title: Emeritus Professor of Chemistry

Dahl Tribute
Memories with Department of Chemistry & Students
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Lawrence F. Dahl, 91

Man smiling holding certificateLawrence Frederick Dahl, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, passed away unexpectedly on March 20, 2021, at the age of 91. He was preceded in death by his son, Chris Dahl and he is survived by his wife of 63 years, Professor Emerita June Lomnes Dahl and two sons, Lawrence Dahl and Eric Dahl, all of Madison, Wisconsin, and grandson Lawrence Samuel Hendon-Dahl.

Professor Dahl was born June 2, 1929, in Louisville, Kentucky, and received a B.S. in 1951 from the University of Louisville and a Ph.D. in 1957 from Iowa State University, where his adviser was the late Robert E. Rundle.  Larry began his independent career as an Instructor in the UW-Madison Department of Chemistry in September 1957, and spent 49 years as a faculty member, beginning as an Assistant Professor in July 1959. After promotion to Associate Professor in 1963 and Professor in 1964, he became the R. E. Rundle Professor of Chemistry 1978 and in 1991 he was named a Hilldale Professor of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Professor Dahl’s research focused on inorganic chemistry, with an emphasis on the synthesis of well-defined transition-metal cluster compounds, analysis of metal-metal bonded molecules and the application of X-ray crystallography to characterization of these and related compounds.

Professor Dahl mentored over 95 Ph.D. students during his career, in addition to working with a large number of postdoctoral associates, M.S. and B.S. students and visiting faculty. His classroom instruction included many years of teaching General Chemistry to freshman undergraduates and a graduate-level Chemical Crystallography course. In connection with his research, he served on the Editorial Boards of numerous journals in his field, including Chemical Reviews, Journal of Physical Chemistry, Journal of Organometallic Chemistry, Journal of Coordination Chemistry and the Journal of Cluster Science.

Professor Dahl’s research had a profound impact on the field of inorganic chemistry, and his contributions have been recognized by an extensive number of awards, and most notably his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1988. Other noteworthy accolades include his election as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1992) and the New York Academy of Sciences (1975) and his receipt of the American Chemical Society Award in Inorganic Chemistry (1974), the Willard Gibbs Medal (1999), the Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Chemists (2000), and the F. Albert Cotton Award in Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry (2010). In 1994, he received the University of Wisconsin Hilldale Award from the Division of Physical Sciences. Professor Dahl has delivered a large number of prominent lectureships, including the Paolo Chini Lectureship endowed by the Italian Society of Chemistry, the J. C. Bailar, Jr. Lectures at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, the Fred Basolo Lectures at Northwestern University, and the Sir Ronald Nyholm Lectureship sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Dahl was appointed a “Kentucky Colonel” by the Governor of Kentucky in 1982. A decade later, he received the first Alumnus Award from the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Louisville and an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Louisville. In 2015, Larry Dahl was named a Fellow of the American Crystallographic Association.

An archetypal academic scientist Larry, as Professor Dahl was known, has positively affected lives and influenced careers of an innumerable number of students and colleagues, offering support and words of encouragement in addition to scientific advice. He was always sincerely interested in people and was extremely generous with his time. An accomplished writer with a long list of scientific publications, Larry credited the Goddess Fortuna in one of his papers for good luck in chemical synthesis and crystallization she brought his group over the years. Larry knew how to enjoy life, had an unfailingly positive attitude, and remained enthusiastic about science to the very end. Professor Dahl was a brilliant researcher, thoughtful adviser, a wonderful colleague, and a dear friend. Our community lost one of its brightest lights.

Gifts in memory of Larry Dahl can be made to UW-Madison, Department of Chemistry to continue the tradition of student and faculty excellence within the department. Instructions for giving online or by check can be found at Please include a memo in Larry Dahl’s memory with your gift.

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  • B.S. 1951, University of Louisville
  • Ph.D. 1956, Iowa State University



Research in the Dahl group focused mainly on high-nuclearity homometallic and heterometallic carbonyl clusters: namely, those with at least 10 metal-core atoms containing primarily Group 10 (Ni, Pd, Pt) and Group 11 (Cu, Ag, Au) metals that form direct metal-metal bonds. It combined the art of synthesis (involving Schlenkware, preparative vac-line, and drybox techniques) with structural/bonding analyses and physical/chemical charaterization studies. Modern physical methods utilized include CCD X-ray diffraction, spectroscopic (IR, UV-Vis near IR, multinuclear NMR, ESR), mass spectrometric, magnetic susceptibility, and electrochemical measurements.

Because most of these giant-sized metal clusters possess well-defined stoichiometries and precise geometries, detailed investigations of their physical behaviors produced insight into the onset of metallic-like character with increasing metal-core size (especially for clusters with interior atoms within their metal cores). It was important to correlate their physical properties (e.g., variable-temperature magnetic moments and specific heats) with those of naked and ligand-stabilized nanoparticles with non-uniform size distributions. These clusters are possible precursors of new materials with useful catalytic, electronic, magnetic, optical and/or photochemical/electrochemical properties.

Recent work has given rise to a considerable number of remarkable new nanosized clusters such as: 1) three isostructural 38-atom trimetallic Au-M-Ni(M=Pd, Pt) and bimetallic Au-Ni carbonyl clusters of pseudo-D3d symmetry with substitutional Pd/Ni crystal-disorder occurring at only six equivalent metal sties (coloring problem), 2) two crystallographically superimposed Au-Ni carbonyl clusters of pseudo-D4d symmetry containing the same 26-atom gold cage (with either one or two interior Au prisoners) surrounded by 40 Ni atoms that are ligated by 56 COs, and 3) a three-shell palladium carbonyl phosphine cluster of pseudo-icosahedral symmetry containing 55 interior Pd atoms in the first two shells encapsulated by a 60-vertex 3rd shell polyhedron ( a geometrical metalloisomer of C60 buckyball) with 30 additional capping Pd atoms.

The diversity of research, in which coworkers were encouraged to develop and broaden their own research projects and to carry out ‘operational tests’ of their hypotheses in the laboratory, generated a highly stimulating environment with extensive cross-fertilization of ideas and much give-and-take interaction occurring between group members.