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Irving S. Bengelsdorf, 84; science writer, editor

July 20, 2007|From a Times Staff Writer

Irving S. Bengelsdorf, a longtime science writer, editor and columnist whose work appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, has died. He was 84.

Bengelsdorf died June 22 of kidney failure at his home in Oceanside, said his widow, Beverly.

Not many research chemists make the career switch to journalism, but that is what Bengelsdorf did in the early 1960s, when he gave up a job at U.S. Borax to become science editor at The Times. His column was called "Of Atoms and Men" and ran in the paper from 1961 to 1969. He was praised for making arcane scientific issues understandable to the average reader.

After leaving The Times, he worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, where he was director of science communication for several years.

During much of that time, he also was a contributing science columnist for the Herald-Examiner until it folded in 1989.

Over the years, he also was a familiar face on local college campuses, teaching at UCLA and as an adjunct professor at USC.

A native of Chicago, Bengelsdorf earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois and his master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Chicago.

He started writing about science for newspapers in the 1950s while working as a research chemist at the General Electric Research Lab in Schenectady, N.Y. He moved to Southern California in 1960 for a research chemist post at U.S. Borax Research Corp. in Anaheim.

In the early 1990s, he and his family moved to Oceanside, where he continued to do consulting work for JPL, mainly in the field of grant writing. He took his "Of Atoms and Men" column to a new audience at the North County Times.

In addition to his newspaper work, Bengelsdorf wrote "Spaceship Earth: People and Pollution" (1969) and was a coauthor of "Biology: A Unique Science" (1978).

Besides his wife of 58 years, he is survived by three daughters and a grandchild.

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