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Michael P. Barnett

by Sophie L. Rovner
April 8, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 14

Michael P. Barnett, 82, a retired quantum chemist and computer scientist, died in Princeton, N.J., on March 13, 2012.

A London native, Barnett attended King’s College London, where he received a B.Sc. in chemistry in 1948 and a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry in 1952 that resulted in the discovery of a mathematical method known as the Barnett-Coulson expansion.

Barnett served the military as a senior fellow at the Royal Radar Establishment in Malvern, England, and then joined IBM United Kingdom as computer center director.

After completing a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1957, he became an associate professor of physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directed the cooperative computer laboratory. He returned to England in 1963 as a reader of information processing at the University of London.

Believing that academic research should lead to industrial applications, he moved in 1964 to RCA’s newly formed graphic systems division in Princeton, N.J., to create software for commercial typesetting. In 1975, he joined the faculty of the Columbia University School of Library Service, where he introduced library automation courses.

Two years later, Barnett moved to the department of computer and information science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, retiring in 1996.

Known for his wit, Barnett enjoyed telling stories. He wrote seven books, including some with his then-teenage children.

Barnett is survived by his wife of 51 years, Barbara; daughter, Gabrielle; son Simon; and six grandchildren. His son Graham predeceased him.

Obituary notices of no more than 300 words may be sent to Susan J. Ainsworth at and should include an educational and professional history.


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