Charles F. Coleman

December 30, 1917 - September 12, 2006


  Chemist, photographer, musician, poet

  Charles Franklin Coleman, 88, of Oak Ridge, Tennessee died from pneumonia at 3 a.m., Tuesday, September 12, 2006, at the Methodist Medical Center, attended by his family.
  Charles Coleman was born December 30, 1917, in Burley, Idaho, the middle of three children.  His mother, Orpha Mary Cauthorn Coleman, was a school teacher before marriage and, later, city treasurer, an elected position.  His father, Arthur Enos Coleman, worked as a printer for the Burley Newspaper.  They had moved from Kansas to Idaho to homestead, prior to moving into the city.  Siblings were Robert Cauthorn Coleman, who became a medical doctor, and Orpha Kathleen Coleman Phillips, who is an author.
  Arthur Coleman owned three lots in Burley, and planted two of them as vegetable gardens.  Charles was in charge of these gardens, and, after a well was put in, also responsible for keeping the pump running.  He also was a Curtis Company Junior – later Senior – Salesman in Burley, and used his earnings from that job to purchase a Toggenburg nanny goat named Daisy.  Later he bred Daisy to raise a beautiful white half-Angora kid named Pan.  Pan played with all the children in the neighborhood, and often escaped and tried to go to school with them.  The winter Charles was ten, he built a twelve foot replica of a Viking ship from old boards and other scraps, complete with sail.  He polished a cow horn into a Viking horn, and taught himself how to blow it.
  In grade school Charles started playing the coronet, but then switched to the baritone horn, which he played in the senior high band from seventh grade on.  Several times he was accepted to play in the All Northwest music festival, held in Seattle or Portland.  His senior year he received Superior ratings for all aspects of a baritone contest.  The contest piece was “Beautiful Colorado”, and the judge was the piece’s composer, Joseph deLuca.  Charles continued playing throughout undergraduate school in a concert orchestra.
  Charles graduated from Burley High School in 1935 as the class Valedictorian.  In addition to band and orchestra, he was also a member of the chess club, the debate club, quill & scroll, national honor, and the editor of the school newspaper his senior year.  By then the country was in the Great Depression: going to college required that he first spend time earning money for it.   He and his brother Robert took turns working in the chemistry laboratory at Amalgamated Sugar Company, helping each other with college expenses.  He also worked as a bookkeeper for a local hardware store, a draftsman for the Bureau of Reclamation, and as a lab assistant for both the Bureau of Mines and the Idaho Oil Company.  During this period he found time to teach himself lithography, and created several pieces, particularly as inspired by Omar Khayyam and Milton.
  Due to this alternating work and study, he did not receive his Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering, from the University of Utah, until June, 1941.  He entered graduate school at Purdue University in September, 1941, and received his MS in Physical Chemistry from Purdue in August of 1943.  While working as a glass-blowing instructor, he acquired one of the first pairs of eyeglasses with polarized glass, and used them to astonish his students by telling them where their glassware had invisible fracture points. 
  Charles’s work towards his PhD was interrupted when he was recruited to help with the secret war effort on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University.  From there he was transferred in 1944 to Oak Ridge, Tenn.  In both places, his primary tasks were to invent and build new diagnostic tools, and provide quality control for various uranium separation procedures.  At Oak Ridge, the number of different places he needed to enter, to check on the procedures, meant that he had twenty-four distinct ID badges.
  In 1946 Charles returned to Purdue to finish his work on his PhD in Physical Chemistry, obtaining that in June, 1948.  A weekend reunion party in Oak Ridge reminded him of how much he loved the green mountains of East Tennessee, and he returned to Oak Ridge to work for Union Carbide, first at Y-12, and then at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  He was always extremely helpful to anyone in need of his knowledge and his technical abilities, and he became a valuable resource, advisor, and manager in the Materials Chemistry and Chemical Technology Divisions of ORNL.  Throughout his career, Charles was interested in separations chemistry as applied to recovering metals from ores, fuel reprocessing, and analytical chemistry.  He had over seventy-five publications and reports, and five patents: Uranium-Vanadium Recovery and Separation by Phosphate Precipitation 1957 #2,797,143; Uranium Extraction Process using Synergistic Reagents 1958 #2,859,094; Recovery of Uranium and Zirconium from Aqueous Fluoride Solutions 1966 #3,243,257; Selective Stripping of Plutonium from Organic Extractants 1971 #3,580,705; and Liquid Film Target Impingement Scrubber 1977 # 4,012,209.
  Charles was intimately involved in the development of processes for recovery of uranium and thorium from ores, both in process development and fundamental studies of the solvent extraction of these elements.  Singular successes were achieved using amine extractants in the so-called AMEX process.  Charles was a world authority on the subject, authoring several major reviews in the timeframe 1958-1978.  An early review published in Industrial and Engineer Chemistry in 1958 became the lead reference for the AMEX processes, eventually becoming one of Science Citation Index’s most cited journal articles.  The AMEX process using tertiary amines is still the standard industrial solvent-extraction process in the world for recovery of uranium from sulfuric acid leach solutions of uranium ores.
  Through the years before his retirement in 1984, Charles held the titles of Group Leader and then Assistant Section Head in the Chemical Development Section of the Chemical Technology Division of ORNL.  For two decades in retirement, Charles served as a consultant to ORNL, continuing to assist scientists with many questions dealing with his favorite subject of solvent extraction.
  After returning to Oak Ridge from Purdue, Charles met his future wife Virginia Spivey, and they were married on April 5, 1952.  Through Virginia, Charles became an avid member of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club; the two of them frequently scouting out hikes in advance and performing as guides during the hikes.  Overnighting at Mt. LeCount was a favorite vacation trip for them.  They were also both members of the Carbide Camera Club, and Charles often received awards at the annual Salon.
  Charles was a reader for Recording for the Blind for over thirty-five years, specializing in chemistry and math texts, and his personal favorite: books on Middle English.  After retirement, he resumed a hobby from school days: writing poetry; and enjoyed a lively correspondence with other amateur poets.  He was a member of AAAS, American Chemical Society, Sigma Xi, Alpha Chi Sigma, Tau Beta Pi, and Phi Lambda Upsilon. 
  Charles Coleman is survived by his wife of fifty-four years, Virginia; by three children: Franklin Coleman of Great Falls, VA, Nancy Lee McComb of Wartburg, TN and her husband Wendall McComb; and Arthur Coleman of Herndon, VA and his wife Suzanne Hediger; by three grandchildren: Melody McComb, Byron Hediger, and Charles Hediger Coleman; by his sister Kathleen Phillips of Boulder, CO; and by several nieces and nephews. 
  A memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m., Friday, September 15, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 1500 Oak Ridge Turnpike, with a reception at the church to follow.
  The family requests that memorials be in the form of donations to the Alzheimer’s Association, 2200 Sutherland Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37919, or to the Unitarian Universalist Church, 1500 Oak Ridge Turnpike, Oak Ridge, TN 37830.