Published: May 15, 2024

CU Boulder professor of chemistry recalled as great scientist, teacher, colleague, friend, mentor and lover of the outdoors

Josef Michl, a professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder, passed away May 13 while on a visit to Prague. He was 85.

Colleagues describe him as a great scientist, teacher, colleague, friend and mentor, as well as a valuable member of the CU Boulder Department of Chemistry. Born in Prague and raised in the former Czechoslovakia, Michl joined the department in 1991.

Michl created fields and set research agendas in chemistry, making seminal contributions in diverse disciplines—including organic and inorganic and materials synthesis photochemistry, laser spectroscopy and magnetic resonance and theoretical and computational chemistry. His scientific legacy will echo for generations, colleaugues say.

Josef Michl

CU Boulder Professer Josef Michl created fields and set research agendas in chemistry, making seminal contributions in diverse disciplines. (Photo: Neuron Foundation)

Equally adept at theoretical and experimental work, Michl was a prolific scientist who published almost 600 articles, held 11 patents and co-authored five books.

He was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in 1984. Among many other awards he received, he was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary member of the Czech Learned Society, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Sloan Fellow and a recipient of the Schrödinger Medal.

He left Czechoslovakia in 1968, completed postdoctoral work with R.S. Becker at the University of Houston, with M. J. S. Dewar at the University of Texas at Austin, with J. Linderberg at Aarhus University, Denmark, and with F. E. Harris at the University of Utah, where he stayed and became a professor in 1975 and served as chairman from 1979-1984.

He held the M. K. Collie-Welch Regents Chair in Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin from 1986-1990, after which he moved to CU Boulder. In 2006, he accepted a joint appointment as a research director at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague.

Michl held close to a hundred visiting professorships and named lectureships; delivered hundreds of invited lectures at institutions and conferences; served on many professional and editorial boards, advisory councils and committees; and organized several international meetings.

Michl cared deeply about the Department of Chemistry and left a generous gift that will fund the Josef and Sara Michl Chair of Chemistry.

“Josef was a true intellectual whose interests were deep and broad,” colleagues say. He was fluent in a dozen or more languages, studied literature and history, loved the outdoors and traveled the world with his wife, Sara. They hiked many of the planet's mountain ranges.

“When in doubt, go up,” he said, applying this principle to life and work. He inspired many colleagues, students and postdocs who will miss his brilliance, humor and sanguine disposition.

Michl is preceded in death by Sara, who passed away in 2018. He survived by his brother, Jenda, son, Jenda, and his grandson, Mason.

Top photo provided to Economic Magazine by Josef Michl

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