Lewis "Lew" Snyder

November 28, 1939 ~ February 3, 2021 (age 81)


[Lewis Snyder thumbnail]


November 26, 1939 -
February 3, 2021

Lewis (Lew) Emil Snyder, 81, peacefully passed away (Feb 3) at home. Lewis was born on November 26, 1939 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the eldest son of Herman L. and Bernice McKee Snyder.  He graduated from Cannelton High School (Cannelton, IN), Indiana State Teachers College, Southern Illinois University and in 1967 from Michigan State University, with a PhD in Physics. In 1962, he married Doris Lautner, who became his wife for over 58 years until his passing.

Dr. Snyder enjoyed a distinguished career in radio astronomy, spanning almost 40 years of teaching and research which led him to positions with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, University of Virginia, University of Colorado, Planck institute for Radioastronomie (Bonn, Germany), and finally the University of Illinois where he served as Professor for 30 years and retired in 2005.

In 1969, he led a team of 4 researchers who discovered the first polyatomic organic molecule, formaldehyde, to be found in space using radio spectroscopy. This groundbreaking discovery altered the understanding of interstellar space and paved the way for further exploration of large molecular weight molecules throughout the universe thereby launching the field of astrochemistry.

Dr. Snyder went on to the travel the world using specialized radio telescopes with his associates and students. This work led to additional discoveries of chemical compounds in interstellar space which include: HCO+ (the first molecular ion) and HNC (an isomer of hydrogen cyanimide) before they were known to exist on Earth, SiO MASER (a naturally occurring amplifier of the silicon monoxide component of stellar radiation) and the SiO DASAR (a naturally occurring absorber of the silicon monoxide component of the 3K Universal Background Radiation).  This work also extended into detecting new molecular species in Comets.

Dr. Snyder was one of the first directors of a University-based interferometric radio telescope project built jointly by the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Illinois, and the University of Maryland. During the summer he could be found assisting the construction crew and later went on to use the instrument along with his students and collaborators to detect new Galactic molecular sources.

Lew Snyder is survived by his wife, Doris (Champaign, IL); brothers, David (Ellen) Snyder (Baton Rouge, LA), Ernie (Charla) Snyder (Scottsdale, AZ); Son, Herman (Laurie) Snyder (West Lafayette, IN); daughter, Catherine (Chris) Mueller (Easton, PA); and grandchildren, Jacob Snyder (Villa Park, IL), Megan Snyder (Nashville, TN), Matthew and Samantha Mueller (Easton, PA). A private service will be held at the Morgan Memorial Home, Savoy IL, with burial in Spencer County, IN.

To honor Lewis’ memory, donations can be given to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Champaign IL. In remembrance of Professor Lew Snyder’s dedication to graduate students in the Astronomy Department at the University of Illinois, donations can be made to the Lew Snyder Memorial Fund, type the fund name in the search box.

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