Memorial fund for OU physics graduate students founded
A memorial fund was established January at The University of Oklahoma Foundation in honor of a former professor.
Born Nov. 29, 1963, Neil Shafer-Ray, associate professor of physics, died Dec. 26, 2012 after battling acute leukemia since July 2011. Shafer-Ray joined OU in 1995.
“Neil was always just so excited about everything – family, physics, life,” said Gregory Parker, chairman and professor in the physics and astronomy department. “He was an enthusiastic, creative and genuinely good person.”
The Neil E. Shafer-Ray Memorial Fund was established from donations given by Shafer-Ray’s family, friends, colleagues and alumni, Parker said. Exxon Mobil Corporation also contributed to the fund. Shafer-Ray’s wife, Kerry, authorized the fund.
“When Neil was still alive, he often talked about the possibility of setting up a fund after his death,” Parker said. “This was essentially his wish.”
David Quirk, director of development in the College of Arts and Sciences, said he helped get the fund set up. The fund will be awarded as a $2,000 summer scholarship to outstanding graduate students in physics, Quirk said in an email.
Parker said candidates will be recommended by the Graduate Studies Committee based on three qualifications. To qualify, a candidate must be a full-time graduate student in the physics and astronomy department, have a minimum of a 3.0 GPA and may not be a donor or an immediate family member of a donor.
“What we’re looking for are topnotch students with a possible need,” Parker said. “They’ll be expected to perform exceptional research with the money during that time.”
John Moore-Furneaux, professor in the physics and astronomy department, collaborated with Shafer-Ray on research for about three years, which he will continue work on for the years to come, he said.
“The fund that’s being set up will enable students to do interesting, important research,” Moore-Furneaux said. “In particular, it will allow students to do research that is more speculative, because that’s the kind of research that’s hard to get funded.”
Shafer-Ray’s research concentrated on four distinct areas of atomic and molecular physics: chemical reaction dynamics, spectroscopic field measurements, ultracold molecular physics and spectroscopy beyond the standard model.
James Coker, graduate research assistant in the physics and astronomy department, worked closely alongside his advisor Shafer-Ray.
Coker said Shafer-Ray remained positive during his treatments and regularly kept in touch with his graduate students and fellow researchers through email, phone and even Skype until the very last semester before his passing.
“He wasn’t around much physically, but his presence was everywhere,” Coker said. “And, it still is today.”
Coker said he feels the funding of promising graduate students is a great way to expand on Shafer-Ray’s many papers, proposals and books.
“It makes sense that Neil would do something like this. Even in dying, he would help beyond his life,” Coker said. “He was brilliant, driven, fun and full of ideas – and, now, those ideas can live on.”
The first recipient of the award for summer 2013 is to be announced by March at the latest.
Correction: In the original version of this story, the director of development in the College of Arts and Sciences, David Quirk, was incorrectly referred to as the dean of the college.