Joyce JacobsonKaufman

1929 – 2016

by Jan Caryl Kaufman

Inspired as a little girl by Marie Curie, Joyce Jacobson Kaufman has herself become one of the most distinguished international scientists in the fields of chemistry, physics, biomedicine, and supercomputers.

Born on June 21, 1929, in the Bronx to Robert and Sarah (Seldin) Jacobson, she was raised in Baltimore, Maryland, after her parents separated in 1935, living with her mother and immigrant maternal grandparents. She grew up in a traditional Jewish family. In 1940, her mother married Abraham Deutch, a successful roofer. Deutch, who was born in Riga, immigrated to the United States in 1924 after having spent seven years as a halutz [pioneer] in Palestine. He raised Joyce as his daughter.

At the age of eight, Joyce was picked to attend a summer course at Johns Hopkins University for gifted children in math and science. In 1945, she was admitted as a special student to Johns Hopkins, which did not grant women regular student status until 1970, and earned her B.S. in 1949. It was there that she met Stanley Kaufman, a returning veteran from World War II and an engineering student. They were married on December 26, 1948, and divorced in 1982. Their daughter, Jan Caryl Kaufman (b. 1955), was ordained in 1979—one of the first female rabbis in the United States and one of the first three women admitted to the Conservative rabbinate.

After graduating from Johns Hopkins, Kaufman worked as a librarian and then as a research chemist at the Army Chemical Center (Edgewood, Maryland). Encouraged by her undergraduate professor of chemistry Dr. Walter Koski, Kaufman returned to Johns Hopkins in 1952 and enrolled formally in a Ph.D. program there in 1958. In 1960, she earned her doctorate and a long-overdue Phi Beta Kappa key (as a special student, she could not receive this award when she graduated with her bachelor’s degree). In 1962, she was appointed visiting scientist at the Centre de Mécanique Ondulatoire Appliquée at the Sorbonne, and moved to Paris with both her mother and daughter. In 1963, she received a D.E.S. très honorable in theoretical physics from the university.

Kaufman went to the Research Institute for Advanced Studies of the Martin Marietta Company, first as a scientist in the quantum chemistry group and finally as leader of the group. In 1969, Kaufman joined Koski’s research group at Johns Hopkins as principal research scientist and was also appointed associate professor of anesthesiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In 1976, she was appointed associate professor of plastic surgery. Recipient of numerous awards, Kaufman was named une dame chevalière of France in 1969 and received the Garvan Medical Award of the American Chemical Society in 1973, in recognition of her exceptional research accomplishments in the application of theoretical and quantum chemistry. The following year, the Jewish National Fund honored her as one of the ten outstanding women in Maryland. In 1981, she was elected membre correspondant of the Académie Européenne des Sciences, des Arts, et des Lettres.

Kaufman’s research has yielded groundbreaking work in the fields of pharmacology, drug design, quantum chemistry, and chemical physics of energetic compounds such as explosives and rocket fuels. Among her most distinguished contributions are a novel strategy for computer prediction of toxicology and drug reactions, and chemical calculations on carcinogens.

She has served on the editorial advisory board for John Wiley Interscience Publishers and as editor of the Benchmark Book series. She has also edited the journals Molecular Pharmacology, International Journal of Quantum Chemistry, Journal of Computational Chemistry, and Journal of Explosives. She has been a consultant to the National Institutes of Health, a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Nuclear Science, and a member of the National Science Foundation Evaluation Committee on the evaluation of supercomputers. Joyce Jacobson Kaufman is the author of over three hundred publications.


Koski, Walter S. “Joyce Jacobson Kaufman.” In Women in Chemistry and Physics: A Biobibliographic Sourcebook, edited by Louise S. Grinstein, Rose K. Rose, and Miriam H. Rafailovich (1993): 299–313. This article includes an extensive bibliography of Kaufman’s publications.

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Jan, Great article about your mom! She probably doesn't know, but she was an inspiration to me through my childhood. Mom, dad and i were just talking about both of you at dinner. Your mom was my first visitor when i was born. Wish you well

As an undergraduate at JHU from 1976-1980, I had the good fortune to work with Dr. Kaufman in her lab. She was an inspiring mentor and tremendously helpful in guiding me as I pursued a career in medicine.

In reply to by David Schulman, M.D.

How nice to hear from David. I remember introducing David to my mother and making the connection. At the time, David's brother-in-law was in rabbinical school with me.

It is easy to see that Joyce was a source of inspiration and strength for her daughter. What may be surmised but is less known is the extent to which Joyce has been an inspiration for other women. I am one such person. My mom thought that I should be a teacher--that was most of her experience of professions suitable for women at that time-the 1960's. Joyce inspired me to push for something else.

Joyce Jacobson Kaufman at work.
Courtesy of Jan Kaufman.

How to cite this page

Kaufman, Jan Caryl. "Joyce Jacobson Kaufman." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 20, 2020) <>.


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