Henry Taube, 89, a self-proclaimed "farm boy from Saskatchewan" who won the 1983 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his groundbreaking studies of how electrons are transferred among molecules during chemical reactions, died Nov. 16 at his home on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, Calif. No cause of death was reported.
The Nobel award citation noted 18 instances in which Dr. Taube had "been first with major discoveries in the entire field of chemistry," calling him "one of the most creative research workers of our age." His research provided crucial insight into the mechanism of respiration, the process by which the body uses oxygen to power cells.
The movement of electrons among atoms plays a key role in chemical reactions, such as the burning or oxidation of organic molecules (in which electrons are stripped away from atoms) and the reduction of molecules (in which electrons are added). Dr. Taube was among the first to show how electron transfers take place.
"Henry developed the details of how these reactions occur and, in the process, invented a new chemistry regarding transition metals, such as ruthenium," said James P. Collman, an emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford.
Dr. Taube showed for the first time that electrons could not simply jump from one molecule to another but had to be transferred over a temporary "bridge" connecting the two reaction centers. The exchange of electrons could occur over relatively long distances, moreover, if a sufficiently long bridge was available.
Asked to describe his research in simple terms, Dr. Taube replied that he had tried to do that once and ended up with a one-year lecture course.
He was born on a farm in Neudorf, Saskatchewan, and attended a one-room elementary school. A teacher later arranged for him to take classes at Luther College in Saskatchewan, where he worked in a laboratory for room, board and tuition.
He completed his undergraduate and master's degrees at the University of Saskatchewan, then received a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley.
He taught at Cornell University and the University of Chicago before becoming a faculty member at Stanford in 1962. He spent the rest of his career there, finally stopping research in 2001.
He became a U.S. citizen in 1942.
Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Mary Taube; three children; and five grandchildren.