World-Renowned Spectroscopist David Hercules Dies at 91


David Hercules, Centennial Professor of Chemistry, emeritus, who served as the chair of the Department of Chemistry at Vanderbilt University, died on January 20, after a battle with cancer. He was 91 (1).

Hercules was a world-renowned expert in analytical chemistry. His research was focused on mass spectrometry and ion mobility studies on synthetic polymers. He used electron spectroscopy for chemical analysis (ESCA) and x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) to investigate a variety of phenomena, including heterogeneous catalysis (2).

Hercules received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania in 1954 (1). He went on to get his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1957. He held appointments at Juniata, MIT, the University of Georgia, and the University of Pittsburgh before joining Vanderbilt as Centennial Professor of Chemistry in 1995.He consulted for the Central Intelligence Agency, Exxon Mobil, instrument laboratories, and W. S. Merrill and Company (2). He also served as the chairman of the Analytical Division of the American Chemical Society.

“The impact of David Hercules is difficult to quantify both personally and professionally,” said John McLean, Stevenson Professor of Chemistry at Vanderbilt, in a statement (1). “When scientists describe their discoveries as standing on the shoulders of giants—David is a giant of the grandest scale. His incredible contributions through mentorship, teaching, leadership, and scientific discovery have impacted countless individuals that will have long lasting impact on the lives and communities that he has touched.”

Hercules received numerous awards and accolades throughout his career including the Analytical Chemistry Award and the Surface Science Award, both from the American Chemical Society. He was also a Guggenheim Memorial Fellow, a winner of the Alexander von Humboldt Prize, and a recipient of the Society for Applied Spectroscopy’s Lester Strock Medal and the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh Award.

“Dave Hercules was a legend in analytical chemistry, and a visionary leader who fundamentally changed the course of multiple chemistry departments, including ours at Vanderbilt,” said David Cliffel, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Chemistry (1).

Hercules is survived by his wife Shirley Hoover Hercules, daughter Sherri Kathryn Sokolovich, son-in-law Budimir Sokolovich, son Kevin Michael Hercules, daughter-in-law Marria Paccassi, and four grandchildren–Katie Correia, Zackarije Sokolovich, Nikola Sokolovich, and Elizabeta Sokolovich (1).


  1. Evans, A. Hercules, Centennial Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, Has Died. (accessed 2024-02-06).
  2. Daemmrich, A.; Brock, D. C. Oral History Interview with David M. Hercules. Science History Institute, 2002. (accessed 2024-02-06).
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