Physicist Russ Donnelly, a pioneer in the science of cold, dies at 85

Russ Donnelly, UO physicist
Russ Donnelly, UO physicist

Russell J. Donnelly, a professor of physics at the UO since 1966, died Saturday, June 13, at RiverBend hospital of complications from pneumonia. He was 85.

A memorial gathering to remember Donnelly will be held Wednesday, July 22, at 3 p.m. in Willamette Hall.

Born in Hamilton in the Canadian province of Ontario, Donnelly received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from nearby McMaster University and his doctorate from Yale University. After nine years at the University of Chicago he came to the UO, where he served as chair of the Department of Physics from 1966 to 1972 and from 1982 to 1983.

An internationally recognized authority in the field of low-temperature physics, Donnelly directed the Cryogenic Helium Turbulence Laboratory at the UO beginning in 1996. He was the principal science consultant for "Absolute Zero," a two-part documentary on cold science for the public television science series NOVA that aired in 2008.

A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Institute of Physics and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he received many awards and honors, including the Lars Onsager Medal from the University of Trondheim, Norway, in 1996; the Fritz London Memorial Prize in Low Temperature Physics in 2002; and the UO's Distinguished Service Award in 2004.

He was instrumental in establishing the UO’s Pine Mountain Observatory and was active on the boards of the Lane County Cooperative Museum Commission and the Oregon Mozart Players. He was a longtime volunteer, donor, audience member and advocate of the Oregon Bach Festival.

Donations in honor of Donnelly can be made to a dedicated fund to purchase books and travel for physics students. Donations can be sent to University of Oregon Foundation, 1720 E. 13th Ave., Suite 410, Eugene, Oregon 97403-2253. Or phone 541-302-0300 for more information.