In memoriam: Henry Albert Bent

Henry Albert Bent, a former professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Chemistry, died in Pittsburgh, Penn., on Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015, at the age of 88.

Born on Dec. 21, 1926, in Cambridge, Mass., Bent was educated at the University of Missouri and Oberlin College. He received his doctorate degree in 1952 from the University of California at Berkeley. During World War II, he served as a radar technician in the U.S. Navy.

Before coming to the University of Minnesota in 1958, Bent was professor of physical chemistry at the University of Connecticut and North Carolina State University. At Minnesota, he was a professor of inorganic chemistry until 1969. He also served as director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Van Outreach Program for taking demonstration-experiments to students throughout the Pittsburgh area.

Bent’s publications included, The Second Law: An Introduction to Classical and Statistical Thermodynamics (Oxford 1966), and Molecules and the Chemical Bond. Most recently, he wrote a book on the Periodic Law.

He was the recipient of several leading awards in chemical education, and was a popular lecturer on topics ranging from flames and explosions to science and abstract art. He offered a National Science Foundation-supported short course for college teachers on “Thermodynamics, Art, Poetry, and the Environment,” in which he introduced the entropy ethic: live leanly; do not create entropy unnecessarily. He also developed “Bent’s Rule” on hybridization and valence bond structures.

Bent’s undying enthusiasm and love of atoms and molecules was a driving force in his work and his life. His long career in chemistry culminated in unconventional ideas such as helium’s placement over beryllium in the periodic table, the use of valence sphere models to create electron density profiles in molecules, and teaching through demonstration-experiments. The latter was inspired by his father, Henry E. Bent, who was famous for his demonstration-experiments and his Christmas lectures on flames and explosions at the University of Missouri.

Beginning in 1948, Bent spent a series of summers with his family building, by hand, a log cabin in northern Minnesota, which is now being enjoyed by third and fourth generation Bents. An avid runner and adventurer, he ran his first marathon when he was in his 50s in less than three hours, and took long expeditions in the north woods by canoe and by foot.

Bent is survived by his wife of 55 years, Anne; daughter Libby Weberg of Duluth, Minn; and four grandchildren, Rachel and Drew Bent, and Kirsten and Alex Weberg. He was preceded in death by his son Brian, a chemistry professor at Columbia University.