Former USC chemistry professor
From 1977 to 1989, Benson oversaw the Hydrocarbon Research Institute with fellow chemistry professor George A. Olah, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1994. The privately funded institute was established to conduct research in organic chemistry and physical chemistry labs for use by chemical, petroleum, gas and power industries as well as governmental agencies.
An expert in thermochemistry, Benson made fundamental contributions to the study of complex chemical processes including air pollution, the ozone layer, combustion and explosions, the university said.
Benson focused his efforts on research rather than securing funding, according to the institute's director, G.K. Surya Prakash.
"His philosophy was 'Do good work and good things will happen,' " Prakash said in a statement.
Benson was born Sept. 26, 1918, in New York. After earning a bachelor's in chemistry, physics and mathematics from Columbia College and a doctorate in physical chemistry from Harvard University, he went to work for Kellex Corp. as a group leader doing research for the Manhattan Project developing the atomic bomb.
In 1943 he was recruited to USC by Anton Burg, who built the university's chemistry department into a top-notch research destination in the years after World War II. Benson moved to the Stanford Research Institute as chairman of the kinetics department in 1963 and returned to USC in 1976.
He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1981 and took emeritus status in 1989. He wrote hundreds of scientific papers and a well-regarded textbook, "The Foundations of Chemical Kinetics."
Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports