Jim Swinehart with family and friends at the American River in 1973

Remembering Professor Jim Swinehart

It is with sorrow and fond remembrance that we observe the passing of Professor Emeritus James H. Swinehart in June 2020, at the age of 83.

Jim received his Ph.D. in 1962 from the University of Chicago, working under the guidance of the Nobel Prize recipient Henry Taube. He then spent a year as an NSF Fellow with the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany, working with another Nobel Prize winner, Manfred Eigen. He joined the UC Davis Chemistry faculty in 1963. His research interests in inorganic chemistry included metals in biology and natural aquatic systems, the color and chemistry of minerals, and kinetics and mechanisms of inorganic reactions. Some of Jim’s early work focused on the chemistry and photochemistry of the nitroprusside ion, [(NC)FeNO]²⁻. Later, he turned his attention to vanadium chemistry, an area that abounds with experimental difficulties. He was interested in the reactions of vanadium complexes with dioxygen (O), and went on to study the properties of vanadium compounds found in sea squirts, also called tunicates. His work established a correlation between vanadium oxidation-state and the phylogeny of sea squirts; some families of sea squirts contain V⁴⁺, others contain V³⁺, while some contained no vanadium at all.  Jim also had a keen interest in science education, publishing with some regularity in the Journal of Chemical Education. He retired in 1994.

Jim is remembered as a wonderfully well-rounded colleague, a generous mentor to younger faculty, and as a man who pursued his interests outside of the laboratory with the same cheer and kindness that he brought to our community. He will be dearly missed.


Jim was a great friend of mine. Before there was email, he and Ken Musker and I used to duck out every Tuesday in the winter and go skiing for the day (early 1970's). Sometimes his wife Lisel would join us, an expert skier who kept one of her kids in a backpack while she skied. I loved his lab, where he kept an aquarium with tunicates that he studied for their vanadium chemistry. With my husband, Alan, and our families we went canoeing on the American River. Jim attended the department picnic most years, Last year he was cheerful, as usual, but extremely thin. I will always miss him.

Marilyn Olmstead


I met Jim when I came here in 1985. He retired long before I did even though I started my career in science I think about the same time as he did in '61. While we were not very close It was always pleasant to see him and talk to him. I will remember him as a person that brightened things up when he came around.

Bill Jackson


Jim was a great guy and so nice to we young kids on the block!

Dave Britt


This is sad news. I knew Jim well. He was wonderful colleague who was exceptionally well rounded with many interesting hobbies. He was very much a family man and well like by everyone. Jim was one of the senior member of the Department when I arrived here and mentored me and gave me much needed advice regarding chemistry and teaching.

I have a fish fossil in my living room that’s 35M years old that he helped me acquire in one of our outings. I’ll have that as a remembrance of him.

Carlito Lebrilla


Jim was a wonderful colleague.  He and Ken Musker were the two Inorganic Chemists in the department when I arrived and they made me feel welcome.  I remember Jim as always smiling, very relaxed.  But his tunicates were a different matter, ugly and sessile, they lived in the corner lab on the second floor where Xi Chen’s students now work.

Alan Balch


Back in the early 1970s in the lab, Jim and I learned together how to prepare and run polyacrylamide gels to separate proteins. Old timers will remember lots of tubes in which acrylamide was polymerized in a fairly elaborate protocol. We got pretty good at it and taught our students. Jim was a wonderful human being.

Claude Meares


Jim was my host during my interviews at UC Davis and was a great mentor and friend.  He checked in on me throughout the time that I was an Assistant Prof and was always available for discussion and advice.  I also enjoyed catching up with him and Lisle at the farmers market, the Chemistry picnic and annual holiday party.  He will be greatly missed. 

Susan Kauzlarich


As a member of the search committee, Jim interviewed me in 1972.  I distinctly remember his excitement while describing the presence of vanadium in tunicate blood being stabilized in sulfuric acid at about pH 2!  Following our meeting, I happened to pass by his lab and noticed him using a pipette to do his own bench work (mouth pipetting was safe in that era).  As a consequence of this interaction, I realized that UCD Chemistry was a place where, like Jim, I could enjoy doing my own science.

Last year, he and I enjoyed examining the unusual optical properties of several minerals.  Observation was key in his approach toward both understanding and teaching science.   Incidentally because of his enthusiasm for teaching science and hands-on learning, Jim was one of the early supporters of Explorit (the children’s science museum in Davis).  Consequently, a subsequent visit took us to Anne Hance (a founder of Explorit) where he and Anne got into excited discussions about the best way to teach science at an elementary school level.  Jim was a devoted educator.

Jim was a neat person with many interests and a great colleague whom I will miss.

Carl Schmid



When I arrived at UCDavis in 1964 Jim was teaching a kinetics course required of all graduate students. Our initial contacts were mainly at the numerous Chemistry faculty events then where we quickly became friends, noting that we were both born in 1936.  After we retired we became closer getting together with our wives at dinners talking about travel, living in Europe and family history. Just a few years ago Jim and I  spent several mornings together to see if I could help him learn more about his Swinehart origins, but got stuck in Pittsburgh. Jim will be missed by all of us for his warmth and friendliness.

Ed Friedrich



It is with great sadness I learned of the passing away of my colleague and dear friend, Jim. Jim and I joined the Chemistry Faculty nearly 60 years ago at a time when the Department underwent a fast growth. Jim was a wonderful colleague and human being and he will be greatly missed.

George Zweifel