Chemist Victor Laurie, who contributed to the field of microwave spectroscopy, dies at 88

Victor W. Laurie, professor of chemistry, emeritus, who made numerous contributions to the field of microwave spectroscopy, died on Sept. 13 at age 88 in Skillman, New Jersey.

Laurie joined the faculty of the Department of Chemistry in 1966, a period of early-career acclaim when he was named an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow. He transferred to emeritus status in 2000.

Victor Laurie

“Vic Laurie and I came to Princeton in the summer of 1966, he as a tenured associate professor who had already done important work in microwave spectroscopy, notably the structure of the water dimer; and I as an assistant professor at the start of an academic career,” said Zoltan Soos, professor of chemistry, emeritus.

“Vic was always available to talk science, even though his primary interests were in the gas phase and mine in solid-state theory,” Soos said. “I am grateful that he actively supported my promotion to tenure, and I later learned that an invitation to write a review article was at his suggestion.”

Microwave spectroscopy, Laurie’s area of research expertise, analyzes molecules in the gas phase based on their spectra and enables the calculation of their geometric structure with high accuracy. By analyzing fine structure in these spectra, physical properties of these molecules — such as molecular dipole moments — can be measured with high accuracy. 

Laurie published more than 50 papers in professional journals. Two of his most significant contributions to this field were a general overview, “Molecular structures of gas phase polyatomic molecules determined by spectroscopic methods,” published in the Journal of Chemical and Physical Reference Data, and a prominent study, “Microwave spectrum of cis-difluoroethylene,” published in the Journal of Chemical Physics.

During his early academic years, Laurie studied with a stellar family of chemists including Princeton alumnus E. Bright Wilson ’30, *31, the late Harvard University professor and American chemist who himself was a student of two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling; and Dudley Herschbach, also a Nobel laureate in chemistry.

Laurie was born in 1935 in Columbia, South Carolina, to Victor H. Laurie and Kathleen Rice Laurie. In 1950, at the age of 15, he entered the University of South Carolina, graduating with an A.B. in mathematics in 1953 and a B.S. in chemistry in 1954.

Laurie earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Harvard in 1957 for his research with Wilson. From 1957 to 1959, he worked with the molecular spectroscopy laboratory at the National Bureau of Standards and was a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of California-Berkeley from 1959 to 1960.

In 1960, he joined the chemistry faculty at Stanford University as an assistant professor, where he stayed until 1966. He was appointed associate professor when he joined Princeton in 1966, and he was promoted to full professor in 1971.

He was a fellow in the American Physical Society and served terms as an editor for the Annual Review of Physical Chemistry and for the Journal of Chemical Physics.

In his later years, Laurie was active in educating individuals, particularly senior citizens, in how to use personal computers, giving frequent lectures in town and writing a regular column for several websites including Gizmo’s Freeware, a mainstay of all matters freeware in personal computing’s early days. He received several commendations for his work among senior citizens.

A frequent contributor to charities, Laurie endowed a number of fellowships at the University of South Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences, including the Victor Laurie Junior Year Scholarship and the Victor Laurie Senior Year Scholarship. He served on that university’s Board of Visitors and was designated Alumnus of the Month in March 2006.

Laurie is survived by his wife of many years, Donna Komar Laurie, a former New York Times editor; a son, William Laurie; daughter Kathleen Kish from a previous marriage; stepdaughter Margaret Spicer; stepson Charles Stempler; numerous grandchildren, step-grandchildren, great-grandchildren and step great-grandchildren; his half-sister, Betsy Sivec; and nephew August Sivec.

Read or share comments on a memorial page intended to honor Laurie's life and legacy.