In memoriam Jaap Boon

It is with great sadness that we learnt of the unexpected passing of Jaap Boon at the age of 77. Jaap was an original and independent thinker, always looking across borders of scientific disciplines, and a very inspirational figure for students and peers alike.

Jaap was trained in Geology and Chemistry at the Universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht, and at Delft Technical University where he obtained his PhD with a thesis on Molecular Geochemistry of Lipids. After postdoctoral studies at NIOZ, the University of California, Berkeley and the University of San Francisco, he was invited to become research associate at the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics (AMOLF) in Amsterdam to run the pyrolysis mass spectrometry group in 1983. Research topics included bacteriological oriented studies and preservation of plant organic matter in aquatic and marine environments with a strong focus on the characterisation of particulate matter using pyrolysis mass spectrometry.

Jaap became Head of Molecular Physics at AMOLF in 1987 and he was appointed as Professor of Molecular Palaeobotany at the University of Amsterdam in 1988. The research focus at AMOLF gradually changed to mass spectrometer instrument development (DTMS, FTMS, LDI-MS) and analysis of polymer systems, with the aim of opening new vistas.

First survey studies on painting materials and traditional paints resulted in collaborative research with Tate Gallery London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Limburg Conservation Studio (SRAL) in Maastricht and EU supported development projects. The NWO Priority Project MOLART (Molecular aspects of ageing in art) made it possible to start several molecular level studies focused on the chemical processes in paintings. After ten PhD studies within in MOLART (1995-2002) on various fundamental aspects of the composition and aging processes in paintings, seven new studies were developed in the framework of the NWO De Mayerne Program (2002-2006). Jaap’s research focus moved gradually from identification of constituents with mass spectrometry to chemical microscopy and spectroscopic imaging of pigments, binding media and their interactions in paintings, testament to his multidisciplinary mindset.

Between 2003 and 2009 Jaap was Professor of Analytical Mass Spectrometry at the University of Amsterdam, and his work at AMOLF focused on nano-biomaterials and structure of egg shells using electron microscopy and x-ray tomography. He continued to contribute to advanced research on paintings with many museums around the world in a number of collaborative projects. In 2007, Jaap was awarded the Gilles Holst Gold Medal by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences for his innovative work at the crossroads of chemistry and physics applied to art research.

Curiousity and the pursuit of knowledge by connecting the dots were always the main driver behind Jaap’s many and diverse scientific ventures, a mentality he instilled in the dozens of students he mentored. For this, his kindness and generosity he will be dearly missed.