Milton Ray Sommerfeld obituary photo
 
In Memory of

Milton Ray Sommerfeld

November 24, 1940 - May 16, 2017

Obituary


Dr. Milton Sommerfeld passed away at his home in Chandler, AZ, on May 16, 2017. He was 76. He was an esteemed scientist and teacher, a fisherman, a fiercely competitive softball player, the best barbecuer outside of Texas, and a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He lived exactly the life he wanted, and was surrounded by his wife of nearly 54 years, children and grandchildren when he ended his battle with cancer.

One of the nation's top experts on algae, Milt has spent five decades researching and engineering uses of the plant, from biofuel...

Dr. Milton Sommerfeld passed away at his home in Chandler, AZ, on May 16, 2017. He was 76. He was an esteemed scientist and teacher, a fisherman, a fiercely competitive softball player, the best barbecuer outside of Texas, and a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He lived exactly the life he wanted, and was surrounded by his wife of nearly 54 years, children and grandchildren when he ended his battle with cancer.

One of the nation's top experts on algae, Milt has spent five decades researching and engineering uses of the plant, from biofuel to food to cleaning up environmental threats. At Arizona State University, where he worked for 48 years, he was known as "The Wizard of Ooze" because he was the green slime's top evangelist, illuminating the potential of algae with a showman's vibrant imagery, science jokes and - if you were lucky - an algae cookie, freshly baked by his wife, Carolyn.

Milt was born in 1940 in a farmhouse in Thorndale, Texas, to Eldo and Julia Sommerfeld. He still owns the family farm. He earned a BS in Biology from Southwest Texas University in 1962 and a PhD in Botany from Washington University in St. Louis in 1968. That same year, Milt launched what became an expansive career as an ASU professor, researcher and administrator. He served as Chair of the Department of Botany and Microbiology and Associate Dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He was the founder and co-director of the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation. He has more than 300 scientific publications, has mentored more than 60 PhD, MS and postdoctoral students and taught thousands of undergraduates. He received numerous awards over his career, including ASU's Outstanding Teaching Award in 1987 and Innovator of the Year in 2007. His work was also named the 11th best invention in TIME Magazine in 2008. He "retired" in 2016 but had yet to hang up his lab coat.

Milt brought his passion to every aspect of his life, from competitive softball, which he played until he was 65 (when he was ejected for telling off an umpire), to hunting and fishing with his son and grandson, and cheering at his granddaughters' ball games. He slaved over the grill and smoker as he perfected his own father's famed barbecue ribs and brisket, loving nothing more than having his home full of kids and grandkids oohing and aahing over his barbecue triumphs. Behind the smiles in every family picture, know that "Papa" was urging the kids to substitute "cheese" with "algaeeee."

But most important was his devotion to Carolyn, his biggest cheerleader, constant companion and wife of 53 years. He is also survived by his son, Milton Sommerfeld Jr., of Chandler, and daughter, Julia Sommerfeld, of Seattle; his daughter-in-law, Julie Sommerfeld; son-in-law, Chris Landman; grandchildren, Sierra, Ryan and Lauren Sommerfeld and Jude Landman; and sister Joy Dell Leschber of Hutto, Texas.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, May 27, at 9:30 am at King of Glory Lutheran Church in Tempe.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Milton Sommerfeld Fund to Advance Algae Research. Please make checks payable to the ASU Foundation and send to PO Box 2260, Attn Cash Receipting, Tempe, AZ 85280 with "In Memory of Milton Sommerfeld" noted, or online at http://asufoundation.org/miltonsommerfeld. Gifts will go to a permanently endowed fund to assist students.