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Robert J. Cotter

by Susan J. Ainsworth
March 4, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 9

Robert J. Cotter, 69, a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins University and one of the leading mass spectrometrists of his generation, died on Nov. 12, 2012, of heart failure at his home in Baltimore.

After growing up in Abington, Mass., Cotter received a B.S. in chemistry from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., in 1965 and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Johns Hopkins in 1972 working with Walter Koski.

Cotter worked for brief stints at Towson University and Gettysburg College before returning to Johns Hopkins as a research associate in 1978. He rose through the ranks to become a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences in 1992. Two years later, he received a second appointment as professor of biophysics and biophysical chemistry.

In his research, he and his team developed time-of-flight mass spectrometry and miniaturized mass spectrometers for use in environmental surveys and space travel. Through numerous collaborations, Cotter contributed to major discoveries in cancer, immune disorders, infectious diseases, and metabolic syndromes.

He authored or coauthored numerous publications and the book “Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry: Instrumentation and Applications in Biological Research.”

He was a former president of the American Society of Mass Spectrometry and was a member of ACS, joining in 1967.

Cotter received the ACS Award in Chemical Instrumentation from the Division of Analytical Chemistry in 2009, the ACS Frank H. Field & Joe L. Franklin Award for Outstanding Achievement in Mass Spectrometry in 2011, and the American Society for Mass Spectrometry’s Award for Distinguished Contribution in Mass Spectrometry that same year.

He enjoyed bicycling, playing the piano, and buying art for his home.

Cotter is survived by his wife of 28 years, Catherine C. Fenselau; his son, Bruce; stepsons, Thomas Fenselau and Andrew Fenselau; and two grandchildren.

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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