The College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering remembers Dr. Irja Piirma


Dr. Piirma

1920 - 2009

Dr. Irja Piirma (Tiits) of Stow passed away December 5, 2009 in her home in Stow, Ohio. She was 89 years old.

Born in Tallinn, Estonia, she left her homeland during World War II for Germany, where she and her husband survived the Dresden fire-bombing in 1945 and as a post-war displaced person, she completed a diploma in chemistry from Technische Hochshule Darmstadt and immigrated to the U.S. in 1949. She received an M.S. in Chemistry in 1957 and became the first woman granted a Ph.D. from The University of Akron in 1960. As professor of Polymer Science at U of A, she spent her career advising masters and doctoral students. A lifetime member of the American Chemical Society, she published in many professional journals and her 1992 book Polymeric Surfactants remains in print. She was a Stow resident for over 50 years and a member of St. Stephen Lutheran Church.

Preceded in death by her husband, Aleksander in 2002, she is survived by her daughters, Margit Codispoti of Fort Wayne, Ind., Silvia (Gerald) Dolson of Stow; grandchildren, Emilie (Lee) Fairbanks, Adrianne (Eric) Hays, Alika Codispoti, Andrew and Peter Dolson; great-granddaughter, Kendall Hays.

Dr. Piirma was laid to rest at Stow Cemetery (3162 Kent Rd. Stow, OH) on Friday December 11, 2009. Memorials may be made to The Irja & Aleksander Piirma Fellowship in Polymer Science care of the Dept. of Dev. The University of Akron, Akron, OH 44325-2603. Dr. Piirma's video tribute will be available at at least through January 9th, 2010.

"Irja and I were both in graduate school together during the late 1950's. We've known each other for over 60 years. We were lab partners in one of Professor Howard Stephen's courses. Later when I returned to the University of Akron, she was very generous of her time and helped my graduate students learn the tricks of the emulsion polymerization game. She was like a mother or grandmother to her students, and a good colleague. We differed at times, but always remained friends. My wife and I will miss her." - Frank N. Kelley

Dr. Piirma's Education:

  • 1960 Ph.D., Polymer Chemistry, The University of Akron
  • 1957 M.S., The University of Akron
  • 1949 Diploma in Chemistry, Technische Hochshule Darmstadt, Germany

Dr. Piirma's Research Interests Included:

  • Emulsion Polymerization

Dr. Piirma's Professional Experience:

  • 1952-1963 Research Chemist, The University of Akron
  • 1963-1967 Instructor, Dept. of Chemistry, The University of Akron
  • 1967-1976 Asst. Prof., Dept. of Polymer Science, The University of Akron
  • 1976- 1981 Assoc. Prof., Dept of Polymer Science, The University of Akron
  • 1981-1990 Professor, Dept. of Polymer Science, The University of Akron
  • 1982-1985 Head, Dept. of Polymer Science, The University of Akron