Vincent Massey

University of Michigan

November 28, 1926 - August 26, 2002

Election Year: 1995
Scientific Discipline: Biochemistry
Membership Type: Member

Vincent Massey gained international distinction in physical biochemistry through his pioneering efforts to relate flavin chemistry to flavin enzymology. His research resulted in new understanding of flavin charge-transfer complexes, of free radicals in flavoproteins, of flavins’ oxygen reactivity, of the flavin ring structure’s interactions with proteins, and of flavoenzymes’ classification. His development of innovative methodology for the determination of intermediates in enzyme catalysis through transient kinetics made flavoproteins one of the best-understood enzyme families. Massey also had a great impact on science by inspiring and training many other biochemists and through his determination to maintain the integrity of the scientific method and to foster basic research.

Hailing from Australia—he was raised in a tiny coastal village of New South Wales, south of Sydney—Massey earned a bachelor of science degree in 1947 from the University of Sydney, where he majored in biochemistry. After working for three years as a research biochemist for his country’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Massey entered graduate school at the University of Cambridge in England, where he received his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1953. His subsequent work at the Edsel B. Ford Institute for Medical Research (at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit) initiated his career in flavins and flavoproteins—an area of research in which he was to become recognized as the leading figure.

Massey returned to England in 1957 to accept a position as lecturer in the University of Sheffield’s biochemistry department and to establish his first independent research laboratory. But in 1963 he moved back to the United States to become a professor of biological chemistry at the University of Michigan, where he remained for the rest of his career. There Massey was named the J. Lawrence Oncley Distinguished University Professor of Biological Chemistry in 1995, and he also held the title of permanent guest professor at the University of Konstanz (Germany) from 1975.

Massey was widely admired not only for his research skills but also for his passion in virtually all things, scientific and otherwise. "What a bon vivant he was!" said the wife of one of his former graduate students. "Whatever he did, he did full-bore, ‘sucking all the marrow out of life,’ as Thoreau put it."

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