Pioneering Chemistry Professor Donald F. Hunt Honored by Journal

Jan. 17, 2007 -- In honor of a 40-year career as a pioneer in the field of mass spectrometry that saw him publish more than 300 articles and send more than 100 former graduate and postdoctoral students to leading positions in the field of mass spectrometry, the International Journal of Mass Spectrometry has devoted an entire issue to Donald F. Hunt, University Professor of Chemistry at the University of Virginia.

The January 2007 edition of the journal is filled with papers on the findings of scientists, many whom are able to do what they do as a result of the innovative work that Hunt did before them. Included in the issue is a lengthy profile of Hunt and the far-reaching effects of his career.

Hunt is widely recognized for outstanding contributions to the field of mass spectrometry, especially in the micro sequencing of proteins and electron-capture negative-ion mass spectrometry. Mass spectrometry is a powerful analytical technique that is used to identify unknown compounds, to quantify known materials, and to elucidate the structure and chemical properties of molecules. Mass spectrometry has led to advances in all fields of science, especially immunology, cell signaling, drug development, epigenetics and cancer.   

“Don Hunt has had a huge impact on the field of proteomics and mass spectrometry and our growing understanding of protein structure and sequencing,” said Ian Harrison, professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry. “And his contribution to our department, through his research programs and his impact on students is highly significant.”

Hunt came to U.Va. in 1968 and became a pioneer in developing techniques for using mass spectrometry to study organic molecules of biological interest. Mass spectrometry had its roots in physical chemistry, but Hunt and a few other pioneers showed that these tools could also be applied to living matter, and ultimately for biomedical uses.

“We wanted to honor Don’s 40-year career in mass spectrometry and the fact that he is now 65, though by no means slowing down,” said Jeff Shabanowitz, principal scientist in chemistry at U.Va. and one of the three journal editors – all Hunt protégés – who convinced the publisher to devote a full issue to Hunt’s career and the findings of a great many other scientists affected by Hunt’s innovations. The other U.Va. alumni who studied under Hunt and served as editors of the special issue are John R. Yates III of Scripps Institute and George C. Stafford, head of research and development at Thermo Electron Corporation in San Jose, Calif.

“We felt it was a good time and opportunity to show appreciation for Don’s vision, his broad impact and his ability to solve complex problems and to keep moving the field forward,” Shabanowitz said.