Longtime physics professor honored with endowed chair

· 4 min read

Longtime physics professor honored with endowed chair

Photo of longtime colleagues John Woollam and David Sellmyer.
Longtime colleagues (from left) John Woollam and David Sellmyer.

Nebraska’s David J. Sellmyer has been recognized for his achievements during his nearly 50-year tenure at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. A permanently endowed faculty chair has been named in the professor’s honor to support physics teaching and research.

“I am amazed and honored by the establishment of this chaired professorship,” Sellmyer said. “It gives me confidence that the strong, collaborative condensed-matter and materials-physics culture that exists at Nebraska will continue and flourish in the future.”

Sellmyer joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy in 1972 to teach and guide graduate-level research. Through the years, he has aided the careers of many students, led research collaborations, acquired grant funding, guided improvements of equipment and facilities, and published hundreds of academic journal articles and book chapters. He holds a George Holmes Distinguished University Professorship.

Sellmyer served as founding director of the Center for Materials Research and Analysis from 1988 to 2006; it was renamed the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience in 2006, which he directed until 2019. In this role he repeatedly brought science and engineering faculty together to jointly write research proposals to federal agencies. This took place over a period of more than four decades and led to many tens of millions of dollars in new grants and contracts. This enhanced financial support made a significant impact on the quality and quantity of research in physics and related fields at the university.

The David J. Sellmyer Chair in Condensed Matter Physics was established with a gift from Husker Professor John Woollam to the University of Nebraska Foundation. Sellmyer’s longtime colleague, Woollam also holds a George Holmes Distinguished University Professor and is in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He joined Nebraska in 1979.

“Dave Sellmyer has been an incredible role model for professors to follow in their careers,” said Woollam, who first met Sellmyer while the two were in graduate school at Michigan State University in the early 1960s. “David has a wonderful collaborative spirit. He’s a true leader and an inspiration for others, with wisdom, competence and kindness to share.”

Mark Button, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the university appreciates the opportunity to recognize Sellmyer while having more funds to bolster teaching and research.

“Through the years, the David J. Sellmyer Chair will enable Nebraska to recruit and retain the very best physics educators and researchers,” Button said. “These will be individuals who exemplify the personal and professional qualities of Dave Sellmyer. Having an endowed position named for his legacy will be a tremendous attraction.”

After completing their doctoral programs at Michigan State in the mid-1960s, Sellmyer went to work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woollam went to NASA in Ohio. The two remained friends and enjoyed opportunities for their families to get together.

The two friends would later come back under the same academic roof in the late 1970s when Sellmyer encouraged Woollam to apply for an opening at Nebraska. Woollam did so and was offered an engineering faculty teaching and research position.

“I feel Dave needs to be recognized for a lifelong contribution of bringing people together and working together in science and engineering,” Woollam said. “He’s raised the quality of Nebraska’s faculty just by being there and being good and helping other faculty grow in their academic knowledge and abilities while bringing us all up together. What leadership! You can’t find better leadership than that in academia. I mean, you can’t.”

The Sellmyer Chair will be used to recruit faculty members with a strong publication record, proven effectiveness in building experimental collaborations and success in securing collaborative grants. Additionally, the chair holder will grow the stature of the condensed-matter physics program, be dedicated to mentoring graduate students and promote excellent physics education at all levels.

Recipients will receive an annual stipend from the endowed fund for salary support or support for scholarly research and creative activities. Appointments will be for five years, with the possibility for renewal.

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