University of Missouri-Kansas City
Former Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
Curator's Professor of Chemistry
CLASS OF 1958
Starting off from humble beginnings, James Durig, Ph.D., has risen to become one of the most distinguished chemists in the global scientific community. In his 48 years of teaching, he has supervised more than 100 doctoral students and authored over 1,000 academic refereed journal articles on the subject of vibrational and rotational spectroscopy. Durig also participates in conferences and gives lectures on his scientific expertise in places like China, India, Poland, and Australia.
After high school, Durig worked on the railroad replacing steel bridges but decided that he preferred to go to college. With the recommendation of Washington & Jefferson College basketball coach Adam Sanders, he gained admission to W&J. To honor Sanders, Durig and his wife have established a scholarship in his name.
As a student, Durig loved history and hoped to teach the subject. However, his advisor, Fred Frank, suggested science or mathematics would be more appropriate because of the teacher shortage in those disciplines. As a sophomore, he discovered his lifelong passion. “Dr. McDuffie taught me about spectroscopy, and so I chose this area in graduate school,” he recalls. Dr. Waldeland, chairman of the chemistry department, nominated Durig for the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, which supports doctoral education for students planning to teach in college. After an interview at Princeton University, Durig was awarded the Fellowship and went on to earn his doctorate in physical chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It was the people at W&J who made the difference,” he says. “I knew my professors’ families—I even knew McDuffie’s dog, Wags.”
In addition to his research, Durig has served 20 years as dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at the University of South Carolina and seven years as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at University of Missouri-Kansas City. His title, “Curator’s Professor,” is reserved for “the best of the best.” No wonder he still sleeps only about five hours a night.