Monday, February 23, 2009
Ralph Roberts, 93, who was a leading scientist on advanced energy and propellants for the Office of Naval Research,
died Jan. 23 at Carriage Hill of Bethesda retirement facility. He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Dr. Roberts was born Ralph Rabenovets in Bridgeton, N.J., and grew up in Washington. He was a graduate of the old
Central High School and worked at his family's grocery store in his youth.
After graduating from Catholic University, he received a PhD in chemistry from Catholic in 1940. During World War II, he
did research for the Navy in Annapolis.
Dr. Roberts joined the Office of Naval Research in 1946 and was the head of its branch in London in 1955 and 1956.
Later, he directed the office's power research branch.
He received several awards for his work concerning propellants and the electrical applications of chemistry. He also did
early research in alternative energy and chaired a panel exploring the use of non-fossil fuels by the Navy. In 1973, he
participated in an international conference on energy sources in developing countries.
During his tenure with the Office of Naval Research, he worked closely with many prominent scientists, including two
future Nobel Prize winners. After retiring in 1974, Dr. Roberts worked for several years with the Mitre Corp.
In 1982, he was the principal of a technical book about industrial electrochemistry.
He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the Electrochemical
Society and American Chemical Society.
He lived in Chevy Chase for 50 years before moving to Rockville in 2002. In later years, he took classes in jewelry
design and helped his wife make pottery. He was a member of the Montgomery Potters. He also enjoyed Gilbert and
Sullivan operettas, travel and gardening.
His wife of 62 years, Ruth Drapen Roberts, died in 2002.
Survivors include two children, Bruce Roberts of Tysons Corner and Barbara Roberts of North Bethesda; a brother,
Harold Rabenovets of Silver Spring; and two granddaughters.
-- Matt Schudel