Jonathan W. Amy passed away on Dec. 4, 2016, three
days after attending the Amy Mellon Lecture and a celebratory dinner in his home with members of the
His towering achievement was the conception and
implementation of a chemical instrumentation facility
that involved a partnership between faculty, graduate
students and professional instrumentation staff. This
model and facility, now named the Jonathan W. Amy
Facility for Chemical Instrumentation, has been
admired nationally and has made indelible contributions to research and industry over the past 50 years.
Amy worked with manufacturers including Fisher,
Aerograph, Varian, Hewlett-Packard, Finnigan, Perkin-Elmer, Galileo, IBM and Thermo in perfecting instrumentation. He made important contributions to mass
spectrometry, electron spectroscopy, chromatography
and nuclear magnetic resonance.
He was a problem solver par excellence, whether the
problem was one of local fire service or the future
direction of scientific research in the U.S.
Amy was born March 3, 1923, and grew up in Delaware,
Ohio, where his father was head of the English
Department at Ohio Wesleyan University. He grew up in
a house filled with books, some inscribed by visiting
authors, and acquired a love of reading.
Amy’s education at Ohio Wesleyan University was interrupted by World War II, during which he served as a
communication officer in the U.S. Maritime Service. He
spent the war years in the Mediterranean and the Far
East acquiring a taste for sailing and a passion for
electronics and problem solving.
Following the war, he returned to Delaware, where he
married Ruthanna Borden and completed a Bachelor of
Arts degree from OWU. In the fall of 1948, the young
family (later to include three children Bur, Jim and
Terri) moved their house trailer to Purdue, where Amy
was to start graduate studies in chemistry. He was
assigned a teaching assistantship in physical chemistry. His electronic and mechanical skills were used
building experimental lab equipment.
Amy completed a Master of Science degree with
Professor Thomas DeVries in 1950. On the suggestion
of Professor Guy Mellon, he stayed at Purdue and completed his PhD in 1955, working on spectroscopy with
Walter Edgell, a young professor of physical chemistry.
His PhD project involved building a microwave spectrometer, a new technique based on developments in
military radar. Its gas-phase frequency resonance
measurements produced data that could be used to
determine bond length and angles in simple molecules,
as well as low-level quantitative measurements. He
also worked on new instrumentation for other spectroscopic techniques. He developed special relationships
with instrument manufacturers to specify instrumental
performance, evaluate prototypes and make
He stayed at Purdue to plat a subdivision, set up a sawmill and build his home, and to direct the Department of
Chemistry’s instrumentation facility.
Amy has been recognized by the American Chemical
Society through its Chemical Instrumentation Award,
by the Chemistry Department with the Wetherill Medal
and the Amy-Mellon Lectureship, by Purdue University
with an honorary Doctor of Science degree, as well as
locally through the George Award for outstanding service to the community.
His pithy wisdom included items like “Tackle the problem, not the symptom” and “There is always time to do
a job twice, but never enough to do it properly.” He
spoke often of his mission: to help people solve
He is remembered with great love by Betty and his children, and by those whose lives he touched, including
generations of graduate students, faculty and staff, for
his wise counsel, technical expertise and gentle spirit.
INSTRUMENTAL: A TRIBUTE TO JONATHAN W. AMY
By R. Graham Cooks, the Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Chemistry
DO A JOB
TO DO IT