Dr. Joyce J. Kaufman
Johns Hopkins research scientist was well known for her work in chemistry, physics, biomedicine, supercomputers
Dr. Joyce J. Kaufman, a Johns Hopkins University research scientist who conducted groundbreaking work in the field of physical chemistry, died Aug. 26 from congestive heart failure at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. She was 87. The daughter of Robert Jacobson, a shoe salesman, and Sarah Seldin Jacobson, a cosmetologist, Joyce Jacobson was born in New York City. After her parents divorced, she and her mother moved to her grandmother’s home in Baltimore’s Ashburton neighborhood.
Family members say Dr. Kaufman discovered her life’s work when she was 8 years old after reading a biography of Polish-born scientist Marie Curie, who won Nobel Prizes in physics and chemistry.
After graduating from Robert E. Lee School 49 on Cathedral Street, a school for students considered exceptional, she entered Forest Park High School and graduated in 1945.
“She was not allowed to take math her senior year because it was not fitting for girls to do so,” her daughter, Rabbi Jan Caryl Kaufman of New York City, wrote in a eulogy. “She pleaded and was permitted to take math — trigonometry — but not the second semester, which was analytical geometry. But she showed them.”
She was admitted as a special student to the Johns Hopkins University in 1945, which at the time only allowed eight women who wanted to be scientists and engineers, two of whom graduated, her daughter said. Hopkins did not grant women status as regular students until 1970.
Dr. Kaufman was a 1949 Hopkins graduate with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. She was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
After graduation, she worked as a librarian, then a research chemist at the Army Chemical Center at Edgewood Arsenal in Harford County and later at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
She returned to Hopkins in 1952 as a researcher in the physical chemistry lab overseen by her former professor, Dr. Walter S. Koski — a chemist who in 1982 became her second husband. He died in 2011.
Dr. Kaufman earned a master’s degree in chemistry in 1959, then her doctorate in chemical physics in 1960, both from Hopkins. That year she attended the Summer Institute of the Quantum Chemistry Group at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, and in 1962 was a visiting scientist at the Centre de Mechanique Ondulatoire Appliquee at the Sorbonne in Paris.
In 1960, she joined the quantum chemistry group at the old Glenn L. Martin Co. Research Institute for Advanced Studies and eventually rose to head the group.
She again returned to Hopkins in 1969 and joined Dr. Koski’s research group as principal research scientist. She was also appointed associate professor of anesthe- siology in 1969 at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and in 1976 was appointed associate professor of plastic surgery.
Her work with anesthesiology evolved after a former teacher, Dr. John Kranz, asked her to consult with him on the physical and chemical properties of addictive drugs and psychotropic medicine.
“He said doctors may know how to prescribe medicine, but they really don’t understand how these medications work,” wrote her daughter in the eulogy. “Many addictive and psychotropic [drugs] are used by anesthesiologists — which is how she got into the anesthesiology department.”
A 1972 article in The Evening Sun discussed her work, noting that prior to her research, “people in the pharmacological and medical field had a very poor understanding of the action in the body of ... drugs as morphine and chlorpromazine.”
Dr. Kaufman’s wide-ranging and groundbreaking work ranged from pharmacology to the “chemical physics of energetic compounds such as explosives and rocket fuels,” according to a profile of Dr. Kaufman in the Jewish Women’s Archive.
She employed computers to predict the behavior of drug molecules such as those found in morphine, which affect the central nervous system.
“Using computers to calculate the properties of various molecules, she succeeded in predicting the chemical and physical characteristics of many new chemical compounds before they were produced in the laboratory,” reported The Evening Sun in 1966.
Dr. Kaufman’s work earned her many awards. In 1973 the American Chemical Society presented her with its Garvan Medal for her work in the application of theoretical and quantum chemistry.
The Jewish National Fund named her as one of 10 outstanding women in Maryland in 1974, and she was elected a corresponding member of the Academie Europeenne des Sciences, des Arts et des Lettres in1981. She was named une dame chevaliere of France in 1969.
The former Mount Washington and Towson resident was the author of more than 300 publications.
She ended her career in 1991 after suffering a massive stroke and moved to New York five years ago to live with her daughter.
“Work had always been her hobby but she enjoyed cultural things such as the theater, opera, ballet and concerts. She was also a world traveler,” her daughter said.
She was a former member of the Beth Tfiloh Congregation.
Services were held at Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc. in Pikesville on Aug. 28.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a stepbrother, Howard Deutch of Mount Washington. An earlier marriage to Stanley Kaufman ended in divorce. Dr. Joyce J. Kaufman was appointed associate professor of plastic surgery in 1976.