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MEI Online: People News: North America: October 7th 2008


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:: Tributes to Nathaniel Arbiter 1911-2008

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Nat Arbiter, Professor Emeritus of Columbia University, New York, USA. Prof. Arbiter died only 8 days after it was announced in Beijing that he had been awarded the prestigious IMPC Council Award, for his outstanding and noteworthy contributions to the activities of the Council and its various activities Prof. Arbiter will be remembered fondly by many in the minerals industry, and we have received the following tributes to his memory:

Nathaniel Arbiter
Nathaniel Arbiter

Nathaniel Arbiter, Professor Emeritus of Columbia University, died Oct.5th at age 97, leaving multiple legacies of love, ethics, adventure and professionalism for family, friends, former students and colleagues.

Professor Arbiter was born Jan. 2, 1911 in Yonkers, NY to David and Ida Cora (Rockman) Arbiter. He was one of seven siblings. Educated as an undergraduate and graduate at Columbia, he came to Arizona in the 1940s, with Phelps-Dodge in Morenci. Later, he joined the faculty of Columbia’s Henry Krumb School of Mines. There, he began his global travels. He took early retirement to join Anaconda in Tucson in 1968, quickly becoming Director of Research world wide, and later, Consulting Metallurgist. He continued as a private consultant upon his second retirement. For six decades he was a leader in metallurgical research: however, he considered his greatest success to lie in the accomplishments of the people he mentored in the classroom and the field of mineral processing.

He is remembered more personally for his constancy of love to family and friends, his principled work ethic, his spirit, that was both rooted at home and happy when wandering, and the deep laughter his wife or children could evoke.

Blessed by his memory are his wife and companion in adventure of 47 years, Carolyn Stella (Metz) Arbiter; his children, Jane Arbiter Latane, Jerome Arbiter, Commander, USN (ret)(Kathi), Robin Arbiter, Dorothy Arbiter (Robert Green), and Corinna Arbiter; his grandchildren, Julia Latane (James Graham), Claire Latane, Jasper Latane, Michael Arbiter, Connor Arbiter, Rachel Green and Cora Arbiter; his great-grand-children, Grace, Jacob and Levi Goode, and his remaining siblings, William Arbiter and Jan Arbiter.

Memorial plans are pending.

Robin Arbiter, USA


I first met Nat when he agreed to contribute to our Mineral Processing Professional Development seminar at McGill which he did annually from mid 70s to the early 80s, covering the topic, "Future Developments". It was obviously a rare privilege that he would accept an invitation from a young unknown and he certainly gave due weight to the seminars, helping them become a fixture of mineral processing at McGill.

Jim Finch, McGill University, Canada


April, 1954. Prof Nat Arbiter (2nd from right) pictured with Immo Redeker (North Carolina State University), Prof. Arthur Taggart (Columbia University, and author of the seminal Handbook of Mineral Dressing), Ken Nagano (Mitsubishi Metals), Perfecto Guerrero (University of the Philippines) and Charlie O’Neill (INCO).


I met Nathaniel Arbiter for the first time in 1968 when he joined the newly-established Extractive Metallurgical Research Division of the Anaconda Company on Kolb Street in Tucson, Arizona as a consultant after taking an early retirement from Columbia University. He introduced himself as a handicapped Jew. I do know why he mentioned this but since then we became good friends and he used to drop in my office to chat and talk about copper metallurgy. Before I left Anaconda in October 1970 he became Assistant Director, then few months later Director - - a position he occupied until 1977. When I visited him at his home in Vail, Arizona in June 1978 he told me that it was Charles M. Brinckerhoff (1901-1987) a Columbia graduate and Chairman of Anaconda from 1965 to 1969 that had invited him to Anaconda's New York Office on Broadway in 1968 and asked him to prepare himself to become Director of Research to take over from Francis L. Holdereed the actual Director.

When Arbiter left Anaconda he was consulting to Phelps Dodge and used to call me from time to time and asking for some publications to send to him. I enjoyed very much his company.

Fathi Habashi, Laval University, Canada


I was not a student of his, but knew him socially. He and his wife Carrie have been dear friends for many years. He was a model of a human being, and an inspiration, ignoring his frailties and following his greater instincts. Nor was he missing a sense of humour. At a New Year’s Eve party Nat sat in a corner eating and watching people and talking good naturedly to the dogs, one of whom snatched his sandwich when his head turned away. He was less involved with people, than he sometimes was and almost seemed to ignore folks who tried to strike up a conversation with this interesting man. It was crowded. Carrie realized that he had left his hearing aid at home, and when he was simply sitting there, he was inventing mining processes in his head. He was well into his eighties at that time. She thought he had left the aid home intentionally because crowds made too much noise. Nat was never bored.

I loved him and will miss him. Carrie remains a wonderful friend.

Margo Macartney, USA


I was very fortunate to have been a student of Prof. Arbiter for one semester in a special course he taught at Columbia in 1977 on mineral processing plant design and economics. He visited Columbia a few times during the semester specifically for this course. All of his extensive knowledge and experience in classical mineral processing (Taggart style) and plant practice were injected into this course. Over the years, I have made very good use of what I learnt. This course was also influential in imparting a technology bias in me. During this semester I also had the opportunity to briefly discuss my thesis work on chelating agents and oxide copper flotation (he showed a lot of interest in that, as he did in any topic in mineral processing). After I joined Cyanamid in 1979 he used to call me occasionally to bounce off some "new" ideas he was owrking on and to explore potential reagents. The last time I spoke to him was I think a little over 10 years ago. During these calls, sometimes he would recount his experiences in Latin America, and at other times he would be reminescing his interaction with the "good old" Cyanamid metallurgists. And of course he would always have something new to talk about. In one of those conversations I learnt how he worked closely with Cyanamid in developing reagents and technology for many industrial mineral separations (one of them pertained to sulfosuccinamates). In those early days of my career I am sure I did not realise how precious these conversations were, but soon enough the realization came: Here was one of the giants in the field, and he was calling me, one of the little guys, to discuss new ideas and chemistry! I hope that I can be a fraction as inspiring and magnanimous when I grow up!

D.R. Nagaraj, Cytec, USA


It is indeed sad news. Professor Nat Arbiter was one of the giants in mineral processing. I am one of those fortunate ones who had an opportunity to interact with him as a student in Berkeley. I remember him so very well. In fact I will also have my home assignments with his corrections and valuable comments.

Professor Arbiter had spent part of a semester at Berkeley during my student days in the late seventies. He taught us a course in Mineral Processing consisting of several successful technological innovations in the industry and also how to do project evaluation, project management and prepare feasibility reports of big industrial projects. As a part of this course, he also requested many of his eminent colleagues from the industry to come and deliver lectures about what it needs to be successful in the industry. We all enjoyed not only the course content but also an excellent opportunity of interacting with Professor Arbiter so closely - such an accomplished engineer, excellent teacher and a wonderful human being. I shall cherish those memories of my time spent with Professor Arbiter, for ever.

I also convey my heartfelt condolences to the family.

Pradip, Tata Research Development & Design Centre, India


Through Carolyn, our cousin, and Nat's wife, we came to know Nat and admire him. We were stationed in Moscow when he came through on his way to mining work in Soviet Russia, and then in Paris. We spent time with him in Arizona when we stopped there, during a trip across the country. In those brief encounters, and our correspondence with Carolyn, we learned of the many facets of his personality.

What higher praise can be said of a man than that "He was a GOOD man!" But of course he was so much more. He lived his professional life as if he had no physical impediments, which he did--going down into mines in all parts of the world until very late in his life. He was gentle and alert in spirit. It was a great pleasure to share a meal with Nat, for the conversation would range widely through many aspects of our culture, news of the times and his reflections on the society in which he found himself. All this outside of his professional life, in which, we knew, he was outstanding --the tops. His was a life fully lived.

Joan and Bern Redmont, Canton Ma, USA


I was saddened to hear that Nat has left us all. He was fortunate not to have suffered and to have his family beside him during his last days in his 98th year. I wish we all could be as lucky.

Nat was a great teacher, mentor and above all a great human being. I still remember how well he treated me in 1964, I believe, in his office even though I was only a student about to graduate. I try to emulate him in that regard.

I am glad that he at least got the news about the IMPC award while alive. We are all well aware of the engineering contributions made by Nathaniel Arbiter. He is one of the few individuals in the broad field of extractive metallurgy who has made outstanding accomplishments both in the industry and in academia. Specifically, he has made not only significant fundamental contributions to our knowledge of the engineering aspects of processing ores for mineral recovery, but he has also through the years made a number of major contributions that have resulted directly in the design of new plants for processing ores. His early work on the surface chemistry of flotation is still referred to by those of us doing research in the field. Some of his papers concerned with kinetics and energy consumption in grinding (size reduction) have been the starting basis for the research carried on by others in the field. Actually his accomplishments in flotation machine design and analysis are becoming extremely valuable since lower grade ores now necessitate the construction of much larger scale processing machines. While he was at Columbia, he developed and patented a process for the successful flotation of cassiterite (tin ore), something that eluded many other distinguished Professors of his time.

It is to be noted the Prof. Arbiter hosted one of the earlier IMPC conferences in New York in 1964. There is no doubt that Prof. Arbiter is one of the very foremost mineral processing engineers with distinguished accomplishments in engineering applications to industry as well as to the professional societies.

P. Somasundaran, Columbia University, USA


Professor Arbiter was outstanding. His inumerous teachings, articles and professional services towards sound mineral processing and extraction metallurgy engineering and science have placed him at the position where very few professionals have reached.

Roberto Villas-Boas, CETEM, Brazil




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