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James F. Bonk

by Susan J. Ainsworth
May 20, 2013 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 91, ISSUE 20

James F. Bonk, 82, a longtime Duke University chemistry professor, died of prostate cancer on March 15.

Born in Menominee, Mich., Bonk earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Carroll College (now Carroll University), in Waukesha, Wis., in 1953 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Ohio State University in 1958.

Bonk began teaching chemistry at Duke in 1959 and became so synonymous with the subject matter that his students called his general chemistry classes “Bonkistry.” A passionate and dedicated educator, Bonk rose to the rank of full professor without ever conducting any research at Duke. He also helped build the university’s tennis team and served as director for undergraduate education in the chemistry department.

After stepping down from teaching general chemistry in 2001, Bonk designed and led an environmental chemistry course for nonchemistry majors. He continued teaching until December 2012, when he ended a 53-year career at Duke.

Committed to constantly updating his teaching methods, Bonk received Duke’s David & Janet Vaughn Brooks Teaching Award in 2001. He also received the Dean’s Distinguished Service Award in 2010 and the University Medal in 2011.

To honor his teaching legacy, the chemistry department established the Bonk Endowment, which supports graduate students in their teaching of undergraduate courses in chemistry. Bonk was an ACS member, joining in 1959.

Bonk has no surviving family members. He was predeceased by his brother, Robert, who died in 1948.

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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