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Passing of Dick Nelson, an icon in the field of biomechanics

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  • Passing of Dick Nelson, an icon in the field of biomechanics

    Today (last day of 2020) I heard the sad news that Prof. Richard Nelson has passed away at the age of 88. As stated in his obitiary (https://www.heintzelmanfuneralhome.c...richard-nelson), his professional career markedly impacted the field of human movement science, beginning with his development of the Biomechanics program at Penn State. Students from around the world graduated from this unique interdisciplinary program. As a result of his efforts, the International Society of Biomechanics (ISB) was founded at Penn State in 1973, with Dick serving as President from 1975-1980.

    I count myself as one of the fortunate ones who took a class taught by Dick (circa 1989). I also enjoyed the famous "Dick and Dewey" award ceremonies at many ISB Congresses.

    I know there are many Biomch-L subscribers who can trace their "biomechanics ancestry" to Dick Nelson. If anyone feels so inclined, donations that benefit future students can be made to the “Richard Nelson Endowment” at Penn State. When donating please state Nelson Endowment in the provided box. 1.742&bledit=1&appealcode=AD7AH.


  • #2
    I met Professor Richard Nelson for the first time during the International Society of Biomechanics Council meeting which was a day before the First World Congress of Biomechanics held in August 30 -September 4, 1990, at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Richard’s suggestions and thought-provoking remarks on biomechanical experiments inspired me ever since. Periodically during many conferences, I had an opportunity to witnessing Richard’s exceptional mentorship with his former students and as he brought synergy among people in the field of biomechanics.

    He will be truly missed.

    It was a pleasure to know Richard “Dick” Nelson.



    • #3
      Dick Nelson, Penn State: Lessons learned, memories forever.

      As a graduate student in exercise physiology in Dave Costill’s lab at Ball State University, I became interested in the mechanics of movement, influenced by Astrand’s textbook in Work Physiology. I actually borrowed a 16mm spring-driven camera and did some “very crude” data collection, in a “calibrated space” of runners on a treadmill. My self-introduction to “biomechanics.” Dave recognized my interests in integrating biomechanics and physiology and advised me to apply to this “new program” in Biomechanics at Penn State. He directed me to Dick Nelson; I visited PSU in the spring of 1971 and was accepted as a student in the program during the fall of that year. I still remember sitting on the deck at his house on Park Lane with my wife, our first son, and Dick and Inez. It was then that Dick welcomed us into the Penn State “biomechanics” family and four years of personal and professional growth and great times.
      Given my interests in integrating physiology and biomechanics, my first impression of “the Lab” on the 3rd floor of the “Water Tower” was that there were students with a broad range of backgrounds and interests. This is where I wanted to be. Dick and Dewey Morehouse assembled students in mechanics, sports injury, exercise physiology (pre-Noll Laboratory), all primarily interested in sport and exercise. They enriched the faculty by hiring Peter Cavanagh during my second year in the program who later became my dissertation advisor. Ken Petak and the lab’s great support staff very patiently supported all of our experiments. I left Penn State taking a position at UCLA and carried with me to this day several lessons and memories. The family environment, the Christmas parties, carrying the Vanguard Analyzer up to the 3rd floor to analyze film (yes, film), the lab soccer, volleyball and softball teams, finding my research focus in skeletal muscle mechanics and meeting so many future colleagues from all over the world. And, of course, the ISB and the Dick and Dewey show.
      The first lesson I took with me from the Biomechanics Lab was Dick’s vision of the field of biomechanics. Unique to the field at that time we were in a very rich integrated, interdisciplinary environment, all of us focused on exercise and sports performance. I have carried that sense of integration with me to this day. Most importantly, the human element in collaborative research. A lesson I learned from my time at PSU.
      A second lesson was to treat my students, as they graduate, as colleagues, not to be addressed as “former students.” My most memorable example was when I was in my PhD defense answering questions from my committee and Dick pushed his note pad over to me to take notes. To me, this was a sign he was giving me my independence. We were colleagues to the day he passed. Dick’s legacy, his students, have had a profound effect on the field of biomechanics.
      I learned a great deal at the Penn State Biomechanics Lab from Dick Nelson - people stuff – as well as excellent science. Penn State was where it all started and Dick Nelson was an excellent mentor to me. And, I imagine, the Dick and Dewey show is on again, just someplace else.

      Bob Gregor
      Honorary Member ISB