Remembering Former Professor and Department Head James Kirkpatrick


Dr. James Kirkpatrick


Prof. R. James Kirkpatrick (PhD ’72), former Professor and Head of the Department of Geology, passed away on January 7th, 2020.  Jim was well known to many current and former members of the department, as he earned his Ph.D. at Illinois and served the University for nearly 30 years as a faculty member, department head (9 years), R.E. Grim Professor of Geology, and Executive Associate Dean of the College of LAS (10 years).  He left to become Dean of the College of Natural Sciences at Michigan State University and served in that role until 2017.   He was highly respected as an administrator, and simultaneously maintained a remarkable level of activity in research. 


Dr. James Kirkpatrick in his lab

Jim’s research career began in igneous petrology, and he soon developed a very fruitful collaboration with Prof. Eric Oldfield in the Chemistry Department, applying rapidly developing Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) methods to explore the structure of silicate liquids quenched to glass. The NMR work eventually expanded to studies probing the ways that ions in water interact with minerals surfaces and the interlayer spaces of clay minerals. This work was then complemented by computer modeling to yield important new insights into the dynamics of the ions. Jim was an author on over 250 peer-reviewed publications.

Dr. James Kirkpatrick

He received several prestigious awards and honors for his research contributions, including:  The 2015 Marilyn and Sturges W. Bailey Award, the highest honor of The Clay Minerals Society; The 2004 Dana Medal by the Mineralogical Society of America; The Brunauer Award for the best refereed paper on cements in 2000; Election as a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Mineralogical Society of America, the American Ceramic Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  

Jim received the department’s Alumni Achievement Award in 2017.  He was a generous supporter of  the department and remained well connected to many of us since his move to Michigan.  He touched a very large number of department alumni, faculty, and friends, many of whom have expressed their sadness at his passing and their appreciation for his many contributions.