Resting in Peace – Jim Robinson (1923 – 2018)

 Jim Robinson

Professor Jim Robinson on the lakefront by his home in Baton Rouge.

Photo credit:  Gwen Fairchild, LSU Foundation.


James William Robinson was born in Kidderminster, England.  He attended high school at the King Charles I Grammar School, endowed by Thomas Blount in 1566 “for the instruction of youth in good letters and manners.”  Jim was proud to be the first alumnus of King Charles I to receive a PhD.  He was an honorary life member of the Old Carolians Association for former pupils of King Charles I.  He served in the British Royal Airforce as a pilot during World War II.  He earned his degrees in Chemistry from the University of Birmingham, England:  Bachelor of Science with Honours (1949), Doctor of Philosophy (1952) and Doctor of Science (1978).  He began his career with the British Civil Service as a Senior Scientific Officer.

In 1955, he came to the USA to spend a year as a Research Associate at LSU, in association with Boyd Professor Philip West.  He was accompanied by Winnie, the love of his life and wife for more than 65 years, and their three children, “Little Jim,” Linda and Sandra.  They were enamored by the land of opportunity and decided to immigrate, with “Big Jim” serving as a scientist at Esso and Ethyl Corporations during the 1956-64 period. 

In 1964, Jim Robinson returned to LSU as an Associate Professor.  He became a US citizen in 1965 and was promoted to Professor in 1966, formally retiring as Professor Emeritus in 1993.  Jim was a huge fan of LSU Football, being a season ticket-holder since 1956.  Jim and Winnie were very active in their community, as members of the Cosmopolitan Dance Club and longtime supporters and benefactors of the Baton Rouge Symphony, the LSU Music School and the Theater Baton Rouge.  Their house on the lake was the scene for many social gatherings of faculty in the 1960s and 70s.  Klaus Fischer recalls, “He and his wife Winnie were great hosts. In old British tradition, Jim was also a great storyteller.” 

Professor Jim Robinson literally wrote the book on instrumental analysis.  “Undergraduate Instrumental Analysis” was translated into Japanese, Spanish and Chinese.  The seventh edition was published in 2014, with former students George M. Frame II and Eileen M. Skelly Frame as co-authors.  Other monographs included the “Practical Handbook of Spectroscopy” and “Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy.”  He was also the editor of the multi-volume series “Handbook of Spectroscopy.”  At various times, he served editorial roles with “Spectroscopy Letters,” the “International Journal of Environmental Science and Health,” “Spectroscopy Reviews,” the “Journal of Applied Spectroscopy,” “Analysis of Environmental Control,” and “Analytica Chimica Acta.”

Robinson brought perspective to these books and journals through his experience and expertise as a research scientist in industry and academia. He was a pioneer in analytical chemistry and atomic spectroscopy.  He published 207 per-reviewed manuscripts and mentored 45 graduate students.  He was particularly proud of:

  • the development of a remote detection method for nerve gas used by the military;
  • the introduction laser fluorescence in hospitals;
  • the development of atomic absorption procedures to measure the concentration of lead in air pollution leading to laws banning lead in gasoline;
  • demonstrating the presence of cadmium atoms in solar wind using moon dust;
  • data on acid rain that prompted the EPA to place further restrictions on SO2 and SO3 emissions’ and
  • the characterization of human artherosclerotic plaques that contribute to heart disease.

Professor Robinson was recognized in many ways over the years, including Fellowship of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the American Institute of Chemistry’s Honor Scroll, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Gold Medal Award of the New York Section of the Society of Applied Spectroscopy and induction into the LSU College of Science Hall of Distinction in 2011. 

Until late summer 2018, Jim continued to drive, keep the company of his friend Doreen, and maintain an office on the fourth floor of Choppin Hall.  He came into the Department on an almost daily basis, visiting Attres and others.  Jim swore by a daily regimen of vitamin pills and herbal supplements.  He spent his final weeks in the home of “Little Jim” and Christine and passed away peacefully on Sunday, November 4th, at the age of 95.  A service was held at the Rabenhorst Funeral Home in downtown Baton Rouge on Saturday, December 15th.