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James L. Kinsey

by Susan J. Ainsworth
February 9, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 6

James L. Kinsey, 80, the D. R. Bullard-Welch Foundation Professor of Science Emeritus at Rice University, died on Dec. 20, 2014.

Born in Paris, Texas, Kinsey earned a B.A. in chemistry in 1956 and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1959, both at Rice. He was the first doctoral student of Robert F. Curl Jr., who later received the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Kinsey spent one year at Uppsala University, in Sweden, as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow, and in 1960 was named a Miller Research Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1962, Kinsey was appointed an assistant professor of chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he served for 26 years. He was department head from 1977 until 1982. He returned to Rice in 1988 and served as dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences for 10 years, leading it through major accomplishments.

Kinsey’s research was focused on chemical dynamics, spectroscopy, lasers, and highly excited molecular states.

He served as chairman of the scientific advisory board of the Welch Foundation from 2006 to 2012. Kinsey received the Department of Energy’s Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award and the American Physical Society’s Earle K. Plyler Prize for Molecular Spectroscopy & Dynamics. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of both the American Physical Society and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He was a member of ACS from 1977 until 2006.

Kinsey was known for his wit and sense of humor.

He is survived by his wife, Berma; daughter, Victoria; sons, Samuel and Adam; and three 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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