Paul De Bièvre
Paul De Bièvre was born in Blankenberge (Belgium) on 7 July 1933. He obtained his PhD from Gent University in 1959 where he continued to work as a lecturer until 1961. In 1961 he joined the Central Bureau for Nuclear Measurements of the European Commission (renamed "Institute for Reference Materials and Reference Measurements", in 1994). Paul attended his first CIAAW meeting in Washington D.C. (1971) and was elected Associate Member. He remained active member of the Commission throughout the next five decades. At the 1973 Munich meeting, Paul (and Norman E. Holden) proposed to form a Working Party to review the data on isotopic abundance measurements and their impact on atomic weights. This started an eight-year project for IUPAC on the assessment of our knowledge of the isotopic composition of the elements and led to what is now known as the Subcommittee on Isotopic Abundance Measurements with Paul as its inaugural Chairman.
Paul’s early work in the Central Bureau for Nuclear Measurements focused on the isotope dilution method and he pioneered the uncertainty analysis in this area. The textbook equation describing the optimal sample-to-spike ratio in isotope dilution analysis (the geometric mean) derives, in fact, from his seminal analysis of isotope dilution equations in 1965 (with Debus). From the 1980s, he directed IRMM work on the improved measurements of the Avogadro constant through the single crystal route. This work, now led by PTB (Germany), forms an integral part of the proposed new International System of units (SI) which is set to be changed in 2018.
Paul was very active in the international activities of chemistry and he was a charter member of many international chemistry organizations, including the BIPM Consultative Committee on the Amount of Substance (CCQM). He was co-founder (1989) and President (1993-1995) of EURACHEM, co-founder (1992) of CITAC (“Co-operation on International Traceability in Analytical Chemistry”) (1992). In 1988 he was elected President of the National Committee on Chemistry of the Royal Academies of Belgium (1988-2006), He represented IUPAC to the Joint Committee for Guides in Metrology and has been active contributor to the 1998-2008 revision of the International Vocabulary of Metrology.
Paul had a penchant for philosophy of science and he believed that great measurements start with great thinking. His writings on metrology in chemistry appeared frequently in Accreditation and Quality Assurance (Springer) of which he was the Founding Editor-in-Chief (1995). He was a straightforward, cheerful person and his colleagues fondly remember his passion for science. Talking science over hours in the rain at a bus stop was not unusual for those who were fortunate enough to have met him. He was an inspiration to generations of analytical chemists and his passion for the highest quality measurements and accuracy in communication will be lasting memories. Paul loved a good debate and this quality placed him at the centre of the decade-long discussions and debates on the redefinition of the SI unit for the amount of substance, the mole. Fittingly, he lived only 10 km away from the city called Mol.
Paul passed away on 14 April 2016 in Leuven at the age of 82.