Herman W. Levin, 89, of Philadelphia, a biochemist, inventor, and advocate for higher education of women in the sciences, died Tuesday, May 28, of congestive heart failure at his home.
Dr. Levin’s career was in the fields of pharmaceutical research, biomedical instrument design, and hygienic solutions in waste handling to protect the environment. A graduate of Temple University, he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1951, a master’s degree in 1955, and a doctoral degree in biochemistry in 1958.
He worked in the 1970s as a scientist for Leeds & Northrup and in the 1980s as a researcher for the DuPont Co. In the 1990s, he had his own consulting firm, from which he did research and then licensed his inventions to other companies.
He held seven patents, including for a platelet storage container and other complex biochemical applications.
In August 1990, Dr. Levin was honored in a special ceremony at the Free Library of Philadelphia marking the bicentennial of the nation’s patent system. He was awarded U.S. Patent No. 4,945,245 for development of a sensing device, exactly 200 years after the first patent was awarded to Philadelphian Samuel Hopkins in 1790.
Dr. Levin’s invention was a way of using fiber optics to measure the pace of biological activity in cells being grown in a culture. Hopkins’ invention was a way to refine potash for making soap.
Dr. Levin, then 60, told the Associated Press that the invention would be licensed to BioChem Technology Inc. of Malvern for use in the treatment of wastewater. President George H.W. Bush sent a letter praising the “talent, ingenuity, and industriousness of the American people,” the wire service reported on Aug. 2, 1990.
Throughout his career, Dr. Levin was a financial supporter of Temple. He told his family of being inspired in the 1940s by Hazel Tomlinson, one of a few female chemistry professors hired by Temple in the 1920s. Led by her example, he became devoted to higher education for women.
“When he was a graduate student, Herman taught chemistry to nursing students when other professors said that women couldn’t learn chemistry,” his family said.
Dr. Levin supported female students who wanted to enter the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math. He persuaded many female relatives and friends to attend college and graduate school.
When he became unable to care for himself eight years ago, he persuaded many of his nursing aides to pursue educational certificates and degrees. They could study while he napped, he said.
“Some of them did not have high school degrees, but he told them that he knew a smart person when he saw one,” his family said.
Both of his daughters earned doctoral degrees. His son has an MBA.
“When we were very little, he told us never to believe anyone who said that girls are not good at math,” the family said.
Dr. Levin was born and raised in South Philadelphia. He graduated from West Philadelphia High School in 1947. He was the first in his family to attend college.
He was a member of Sigma Xi, the scientific research honor society, and the Association of Professional Industrial Hygienists.
He was also a former chairman of the residents’ board at William Penn House in Center City, and was influential in the building’s management.
When not working, he enjoyed Philadelphia Orchestra concerts, photography, and serving as a Boy Scout leader.
Dr. Levin married Pauline G. Levin in 1953. She died in 2010.
He is survived by children Marcia Levin Pelchat, Lorraine Levin, and Richard Levin; five grandchildren; and a sister. A granddaughter died earlier.