Obituary: Nico Nibbering

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  • Published: Oct 27, 2014
  • Author: spectroscopyNOW
  • Channels: HPLC / Base Peak
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It was with great sadness that we heard that our friend and colleague Nico Nibbering died on Monday August 25th 2014. This happened during the week of the International Mass Spectrometry Foundation's biannual conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Nico was one of the founders and “engines” of this world-wide society, which is registered as a foundation in The Netherlands to reflect his key role.

Obituary: Nico Nibbering

Mass Spectrometry Reviews, 2014, 33, 415-–416
Albert Heck, Dominic M. Desiderio, Einar Uggerud, Carlito Lebrilla and Paul Vouros


It was with great sadness that we heard that our friend and colleague Nico Nibbering died on Monday, August 25, 2014. This happened during the week of the International Mass Spectrometry Foundation's biannual conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Nico was one of the founders and “engines” of this world-wide society, which is registered as a foundation in The Netherlands to reflect his key role. The sadness was increased because it happened while so many of his scientific friends had gathered, but it gave many of us the opportunity to share our grief.

Nicolaas Martinus Maria Nibbering (Nico) was born May 29, 1938, in Zaandam, The Netherlands. Following high school education in Zaandam, he studied Chemistry in 1956 at the University of Amsterdam, where he would remain until his retirement. In October 1968, he obtained his Ph.D. with the quite exceptional degree “cum laude” (title thesis: “Mass Spectrometry of some aralkyl compounds with a functional group in the side-chain.” promoter: Prof. Dr. Th. J. de Boer). As a measure of his scientific excellence, the year before his graduation Nico had already been made a permanent staff member. He quickly rose within the ranks and became full professor in 1980.

Through his efforts and inspiration, his laboratory quickly became a first-class research group in Amsterdam, and a leading international center in physical organic mass spectrometry and instrumental development. Starting around 1964 and for nearly 50 years, Nico played a major role in national and international mass spectrometry. He published more than 400 articles on many different aspects that ranged from studies on structures and fragmentation mechanisms of organic ions to accounts of new techniques and instrumental methods. He enthusiastically lectured in all major countries in which mass spectrometry is pursued, frequently as a plenary lecturer. He was a passionate teacher, and many students of the subject have benefited from him, his laboratory, and his seminars. He always made time to discuss issues with individual professors and students alike. Many of his mass spectrometry colleagues, in academia and industry throughout the world, are grateful for his strong support in many different ways.

In his home country, he played a pivotal role in “putting mass spectrometry on the map.” He promoted the founding of the Dutch Society for Mass Spectrometry (NVMS), and was its energetic chairman during the 1970s. As a Ph.D. supervisor of a large number of young students, he passed on his great enthusiasm for mass spectrometry, so much so that many still work in the field. He actively supported many long after his retirement, most recently at the 50th anniversary meeting of the NVMS in the spring of this year 2014.

His many contributions to mass spectrometry have been recognized in a number of ways. He was awarded the Thomson Medal of the International Mass Spectrometry Committee in 1991, the Joannes Marcus Marci Award in 1992, and he was a member of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences (KNAW). He served as Chairman and President of the European Society for Mass Spectrometry and International Mass Spectrometry Society. Nico has also been a member of many editorial boards of mass spectrometry journals, and served as editor of the Journal of Mass Spectrometry and Mass Spectrometry Reviews, and of volume 4, Organic Applications, of the Encyclopedia of Mass Spectrometry.

Nico published an extensive reminiscence article that described his extensive research programs (Four decades of joy in mass spectrometry. Mass Spectrom. Rev. 25, 962–1017, 2006). He and his coworkers were pioneering figures in ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry, and they built the first Fourier transform ICR mass spectrometer in Europe and developed various approaches particularly in the area of ion selection. His work on “correlated harmonic excitation fields” in ICR is among his most highly cited articles. His studies in ion chemistry were complete and of high standard. He was fascinated with the properties of negative ions, distonic ions, carbenes, ion-neutral complexes, and other unusual chemical species. Illustratively, the polarity switch on the ICR instrument to study positive or negative ions was termed “boring” and “interesting,” respectively. He loved to work in areas that merged chemistry, mass spectrometry, and physics. For example, he was attracted to field ionization kinetics because of the opportunity to study chemical reactions on the picosecond timescale. He made early contributions to biological mass spectrometry, as reported in a 1974 article on pyrolysis of nucleic acids.

Among his many contributions to mass spectrometry, Nico helped organize many successful meetings, most notably as chair and host of the 12th International Congress on Mass Spectrometry in Amsterdam in 1991. Illustrative of his efforts, many societies appointed Nico as an honorary member, including the Netherlands Society for Mass Spectrometry, British Society for Mass Spectrometry, Indian Society for Mass Spectrometry, and Japanese Society.

Nico had a strong and steady hand in the guidance of Mass Spectrometry Reviews. He was on the editorial board from the beginning (1982). He was co-editor with Maurice Bursey from 1991 to 1993, and with Dom Desiderio from 1994 to 1999. Nico and Dom were co-editors of the Wiley book-series on mass spectrometry from 1996 to Nico's death.

Despite some recent health issues, Nico continued to attend meetings, including the 2014 German MS Meeting, the 2013 ASMS Conference in Minneapolis, and the 2012 International Conference in MS in Kyoto, where he presented an opening tutorial lecture. He also continued to write about his love of ion chemistry in an article, “Highlights of 50 years of ionic reaction mechanistic studies,” which is in press in International J. Mass Spectrom.

Nico was married to Christina (Tini) de Waart, and they have four children: Erik, Hans, Vincent, and Karin. His son Erik is also a scientist, who serves as Head of the Department for femtosecond spectroscopy of molecular systems at the Max-Born-Institut für Nichtlineare Optik und Kurzzeitspektroskopie in Berlin. Tini joined Nico on many of his international travels, and is also a close friend of our mass spectrometry family.

His scientific family is even more widespread, and includes tens of Master students, Ph.D. students, post-docs, technicians, and national and international co-workers. As a former Ph.D. student from his laboratory, Nico kept continuously an interest in you and gave you so much wanted- and sometimes also unwanted-advise; he ended his arguments with the peculiar Nico-saying; ja toch, niet dan!

We will miss him a lot.


Albert Heck
Dominic M. Desiderio
Einar Uggerud
Carlito Lebrilla
Paul Vouros

September 2014


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