In Memoriam

In memoriam: Thomas Edward Thompson

Heather Masson–Forsythe
Jan. 31, 2022

Thomas Edward Thompson, professor emeritus and former chair of the biochemistry department at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, died Nov. 16, 2021, at the age of 95 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Thomas Thompson

Thompson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 15, 1926, to Theron and Florence Thompson. After serving in the Army, he completed his B.A. in 1949 at Kalamazoo College and earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Harvard University in 1955. He completed two postdoctoral fellowships abroad in Sweden and England before becoming an assistant and then associate professor of physiological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He left Hopkins in 1966 to become a professor at the University of Virginia where he continued taught and did researching as a member of the biochemistry department until his retirement in 1997.

Thompson's research employed biophysical techniques, particularly electron paramagnetic resonance, or EPR, to study the structure and functions of biological membranes. EPR is well-suited for measuring reaction kinetics, and with a special focus on the lipid bilayer, he studied transfer kinetics of nonprotein-mediated phospholipid transfer and related cholesterol content to the permeability properties and structural parameters of biological membranes. His work resulted in over 200 scientific publications.

Thompson served as president of the Biophysical Society in 1976 and as editor of the Biophysical Journal from 1987 to 1992. He also served for many years as a scientific consultant to the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, from which he received numerous fellowships as well as a Career Development Award, and Merit Award. Other awards include the Macy Faculty Scholar Award, the K. C. Cole Award, the Alexander von Humboldt Prize, and the Avanti Award in Lipids.

Whether gardening, skiing, canoeing, camping or fishing, Thompson loved to spend time outdoors with his wife of 68 years, Maria-Michaela Smits.

Thompson is survived by his wife and three sons and their spouses, Stephen and Claire and daughter, Amelia; Christopher and Perrin and daughter, Elizabeth; and David and Maggie and children, Henry and Rowan. His oldest son, Peter, died in 1980.

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Heather Masson–Forsythe

Heather Masson–Forsythe completed her Ph.D. in biochemistry and biophysics at Oregon State University in 2021. She is a 2022-2023 AAAS Science & Technology Policy fellow.

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