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Duquesne University Mourns Loss of Scientist Mitch Johnson

Dr. Mitchell E. Johnson, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry in Duquesne University’s Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, died Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Mitch Johnson“This is a sad day for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, for the Bayer School and for the University,” said Dean David W. Seybert of the Bayer School. “Mitch was a respected colleague and a valued friend, and we will miss his presence and his unique humor. He was a strong proponent and active participant in the undergraduate and graduate research programs of the school, and he has been an invaluable voice helping to drive the remarkable evolution of the Forensic Science and Law program in the Bayer School.

Johnson was instrumental in establishing the prestigious Center of Excellence for mass spectrometry at Duquesne, which opened in March. He played a key role in obtaining National Science Foundation (NSF) grants totaling nearly $1 million to acquire instrumentation and software for the center, and served as principal investigator on the largest grant for scientific instrumentation received in Duquesne’s history—a $574,500 award from the NSF in July 2008.

From the time of his arrival at Duquesne in 1994, Johnson felt that students should be trained with state-of-the-art technology. Within just a few years, he authored a successful grant proposal to the NSF, resulting in the purchase in 1999 of the second modern mass spectrometer on campus, a powerful piece of equipment used to measure ions.

Some of Johnson’s research focused on identifying and tracing metabolic changes in lipid molecules, examining if they played roles in mental disorders and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Johnson also served as a mentor through Duquesne’s Project SEED program, which provides hands-on research opportunities to promising high school students. Director of the chemistry honors program and a John V. Crable mentor for the department, he also had served as a visiting associate professor of chemistry at the University of Virginia in 2003-2004.

Dr. Partha Basu, professor of chemistry, whose office was next to Johnson's, worked with him on research projects, grant applications and editing a book in their 12 years as workplace neighbors.

"He was clearly a man who cared deeply for his students and colleagues," said Basu. "He was the consummate colleague."

Johnson was active in many aspects of professional and academic life at Duquesne and in the community. A member of the American Chemical Society, the Society for Applied Spectroscopy and the Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh, he was a member and a former chairman of the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh. Johnson was chair of the 2011 Pittcon, one of the world’s largest annual conferences and expositions for laboratory science, and a former program chair for the organization. He also was a member of the editorial board for the Microchemical Journal, a two-term member of the University’s Faculty Senate Executive Committee and a former member of the University’s Presidential Advisory Board, among other committee and advisory board positions.

Before coming to Duquesne, Johnson served as a post-doctoral fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Miami in 1985 and his Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1993.

Visitation will be at the John F. Slater Funeral Home at 4201 Brownsville Road, Brentwood, PA, 15227, on Saturday, Sept. 11 from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. and on Sunday, Sept. 12, from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.