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Washington State University
CAS Connect September 2014

In Memoriam: James Satterlee

James Satterlee, professor of chemistry and co-founder of the WSU Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Center, passed away on Sunday, June 22, 2014.

James Satterlee
James Satterlee

Trained as a biophysical chemist, Satterlee’s primary research focused on the structure and function of heme proteins and heme enzymes—compounds like hemoglobin or catalase that carry out specialized functions. He was a leader in using nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectroscopy to identify complicated protein structures. His interests included environmental chemistry, including converting algae into biofuel and analyzing the smoke from post-harvest agricultural field burning to determine its chemical constituents.

“Jim’s work on magnetic resonance studies of heme proteins was considered to be the seminal research in the field,” said K.W. Hipps, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Chemistry. “During the period from 2000 to 2006, his work was cited hundreds of times in biochemical literature.”

Satterlee was also a dedicated teacher. He taught freshman chemistry for more than 10 years and was particularly invested in the Honors chemistry course. In addition to identifying examples from current events and environmental issues to help his students connect to the coursework, Satterlee paid special attention to the math skills of his students and held an extra tutoring session nearly every weekend to support their success.

Satterlee at work in his laboratory in 1998.
Satterlee at work in his laboratory in 1998.

“He brought a unique perspective to the classroom and loved teaching,” said Jim Brozik, associate professor in chemistry and a colleague of Satterlee. “He could have retired after his cancer diagnosis, but teaching was a big part of his life and he chose to stay involved.”

At the graduate level, students appreciated Satterlee’s input and often requested to have him on their thesis committees.

“He was an outstanding teacher, a creative researcher, and a kind individual who encouraged his colleagues in all domains,” said Kelvin Lynn, professor of physics and director of the Center for Materials Research, and one of Satterlee’s collaborators at WSU.

Colleagues recall Satterlee as a bit of a maverick who enjoyed many interests. He followed Cougar football for many years, spent time in the American Southwest during one sabbatical learning how to throw pottery, and was particularly fond of dogs.

Satterlee earned his bachelor’s degree at Central Washington University and his PhD at the University of California, Davis, and completed a post-doctoral study at the California Institute of Technology. Early in his career, he was an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and received a National Institutes of Health Research Career Development Award. He joined the WSU faculty in 1989 and is survived by his wife, Sandra, and daughter, Aston.

Gifts in memory of James Satterlee will support student scholarships in chemistry. Donations can be made online or by mail to: WSU Foundation, CAS Development Office, PO Box 644235, Pullman, WA 99164-4235.