Shimer College

James Donovan

JD, as friends and students call him, has been a member of the Shimer faculty since 1999. A large, lumbering figure with a mustache, he faintly reminds you of a walrus with a PhD. In addition to the full range of the sciences, JD is interested in the interface of science with other fields, from cooking to theology to the stock market. He is always ready for a good joke. Feel free to ask him for one or tell him one of your own. 


If you want to know more about science at Shimer College, feel free to call JD at 312-235-3534.  He teaches all morning, so call after 11:30.  In the meantime, check out this link, a paper by Nobel Laureate Thomas Cech. 


JD adds that Shimer also has the advantage of sharing space with Illinois Institute of Technology.  Since Shimer students can cross-register and take IIT courses, a science-minded student can take all the lab, math, and advanced science courses available there.  Or, as JD would call the courses: ‘fun stuff.’


Professor of Natural Sciences

In Brief

Before joining the Shimer faculty, JD was a Senior Research Scientist and President of the ADD Technical Advisory Board at Abbott Laboratories in North Chicago. He has also taught at the University of Florida Medical School and has served as the Midwest Training Director for Habitat for Humanity.

Why Shimer?

When I finally learned about Shimer’s curriculum, its Socratic style of teaching, its democratic ethos, and its intellectual rigor, I immediately applied for a position, quit my old job, and have lived happily ever after.


Ph.D., Biophysics and Theoretical Biology
University of Chicago, 1979

B.S., Chemistry
University of Notre Dame, 1975





Introduction to Cosmology

Physics of Music and Sound

Origins: Religious and Scientific Explanations of the World’s Existence and Fate

Guides to Life: Wisdom literature from Psalms and Aesop to Gandhi and Covey

Research Interests

JD has been in departments ranging from physics to physiology.  His early research was in biophysics and the interaction of proteins with biological membranes.  Currently, he is exploring problems in cosmology.


From his Abbott days, JD holds three patents:

Immunoassay Using Microparticle Neutralization

Indicator Reagents, Diagnostic Assays and Test Kits Employing Organic Polymer Latex Particles

Immunoassay with Built-in Confirmation

Research Activity

Donovan, JJ. 2013, First Principle Calculation of Vacuum Energy, Phys. Rev. Let. (In review.)

Donovan, JJ. 2001. Teaching Science Historically Instead of Teaching the History of Science. in The Wider World of Core Texts and Courses, A. Brunello, M. Chiariello, and J.S. Lee, Eds., Association for Core Texts and Courses 2001, pp 85-89

Tarcha P, Misun D, Finley D, Wong M, and Donovan JJ. 1991. Synthesis, analysis and immunodiagnostic applications of poly(pyrrole) latex and its derivatives in Polymer Latexes: Preparation, Characterization and Applications, E.S. Daniels, E.D. Sudol, and M.S. El-Aasser, Eds., ACS Symposium Series 492, p. 347- 367

Shiver JW; Donovan JJ. 1987. Interactions of diphtheria toxin with lipid vesicles: determinants of ion channel formation. Biochim Biophys Acta 903 p48-55

Donovan JJ; Simon MI; Montal M. 1982. Insertion of diphtheria toxin into and across membranes: role of phosphoinositide asymmetry. Nature 298 p669-72

Donovan JJ; Simon MI; Draper RK; Montal M. 1981. Diphtheria toxin forms transmembrane channels in planar lipid bilayers. Proc Natl Acad Sci (USA) 78 p172-6

Donovan JJ; Latorre R. 1979. Inactivation of the alamethicin-induced conductance caused by quaternary ammonium ions and local anesthetics. J Gen Physiol 73 p425-51

Awards and Honors

Nominee, US Professors of the Year, 2013

Entrepreneurial Award, Abbott Labs Diagnostics Division, 1990

Distinguished Service Award, Waukegan Jaycees, 1990

Abbott Presidential Award, Abbott Labs,1989

Runner-up, Teacher of the Year, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, 1985