Michelle Tevis
KU Endowment

Gift creates professorship to educate physicists

Wed, 02/10/2016

LAWRENCE — Ernest D. Klema ventured into Ivy League halls and the labs of Los Alamos during his academic and professional career, but his roots were planted at the University of Kansas. Klema, who died in 2008, made a $1.8 million estate gift to establish a professorship in physics at KU.

The gift to KU Endowment, from the estate of Klema and his wife, Virginia Klema, who died in 2015, will create the J.D. Stranathan Professorship of Experimental Physics in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Experimental physics plays an essential role in the development of scientific explanation of natural phenomena, specifically to test theories and provide the basis for scientific knowledge.

Both Ernest and Virginia Klema had illustrious academic careers. Virginia Klema was a principal research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I am incredibly grateful for this gift from the Klema family. Having the ability to recruit leading researchers in experimental physics enhances our opportunities for innovation and research excellence at KU and continues Ernest Klema’s legacy of scientific discovery,” said Carl Lejuez, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

Ernest Klema was born in Wilson. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in 1941. He then went on to receive a master’s degree in physics from the university in 1942. During his academic career, he was a Summerfield Scholar and a member of Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.

He was attending Princeton University for his doctorate when his project was transferred to Los Alamos, New Mexico. It was at Los Alamos that Klema worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb.

After World War II, his studies took him to the University of Illinois and then Rice University in Houston, where he earned his doctorate in physics in 1951. From there, he held several professorships and research positions, including work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. It was at Argonne that Klema contributed to the development of the electron microscope.

In 1968, Klema became a professor and dean of the College of Engineering at Tufts University. He was also appointed adjunct professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1973, where he researched issues relating to technology and society. Upon retirement, Klema became emeritus professor of engineering science and dean emeritus of the College of Engineering at Tufts.

The professorship carries the name of J.D. Stranathan, a KU professor and chair in the Department of Physics, who retired in 1969. Stranathan earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at KU in 1921 and 1924 respectively, and his doctorate at the University of Chicago in 1928. He joined the faculty at KU in 1920, and Klema studied under him as a graduate student. Stranathan is known for writing a pioneering textbook, The “Particles” of Modern Physics.

Hume Feldman, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, said, “Professor Klema’s gift is of great value to the department as we strive to increase our ranking, enlarge our profile and increase our visibility. With both state and federal funding on the decline, we rely on our alumni and friends to support both our teaching and research mission.”

The gift counts toward Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, the university’s comprehensive fundraising campaign. Far Above seeks support to educate future leaders, advance medicine, accelerate discovery and drive economic growth to seize the opportunities of the future.

The campaign is managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

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