When University of Mississippi professor Don Summers was a college undergraduate, he knew he wanted a career in higher education. But he didn’t want his work to be limited to conducting research in physics and astronomy; he wanted to teach, as well.
The strong legacy he has built through teaching hundreds of students has now been expanded through his gift of $175,000 to assist Ole Miss graduate students pursuing degrees in experimental particle physics. Summers has chosen to name the fund in honor of James J. Reidy, the former chair and professor emeritus of physics and astronomy, whom he credits with bringing Ole Miss to the attention of the international scientific community through high-energy physics research.
“I saw the opportunity to help with what I consider to be a real need of our graduate students, while also honoring Dr. Reidy, who started particle physics research here,” Summers said. “I think we have to provide more support to our graduate students so they do not have to work full time while they are pursuing important research. Funding for higher education is much more challenging these days, and at the same time teachers for the sciences are scarce in many parts of the country. I saw this gift as a way that I could make a real contribution to address these needs.”
Summers was recruited to Ole Miss in 1989 and rose to the rank of a full professor in 2002. His research interests are focused on the investigation of the fundamental nature of matter. The professor has collaborated on high-energy physics experiments at Fermilab in Illinois and at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research headquartered in Switzerland. Summers worked on the discovery of the W+, W- and Z0 heavy particles, which mediate all weak interactions, and this discovery at CERN was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize. With Mississippi’s experiment at Fermilab, Summers accumulated the world’s largest sample of heavy charmed quarks.
Thanks to the James J. Reidy Fund for Experimental Particle Physics Graduate Students, Ole Miss students will also be engaged in challenging research. Reidy, a close research colleague of Summers’, says when he learned the new fund paid tribute to him he was “flabbergasted.”
“I really couldn’t imagine having a scholarship named in my honor. This certainly ranks as the greatest honor I have received at Ole Miss, and I am deeply grateful to Dr. Summers for his thoughtfulness and generosity,” he said.
“The awards will enable our high-energy physics students to complete their graduate programs and most likely attract other students who see that the high-energy physics program at Ole Miss is concerned about students and makes every effort to ensure they have the opportunity to complete their degree programs. This fund shows students that we are aware that in addition to the academic environment, there is also a financial part of their programs that must be addressed and the department uses every possible source to do this,” Reidy said.
UM Chancellor Dan Jones agrees with descriptions regarding Summers’ generosity and impact on students.
“Don Summers has given his life to higher education through teaching and research. Now he has extended his influence by making an extraordinary gift that will impact the lives, careers and contributions of our graduate students in experimental particle physics, while also honoring a fellow colleague and leader. Dr. Summers’ generous gift is inspiring beyond words. We thank him for investing in our students and for strengthening our academic community. His service and dedication are exemplary.”
Lucien Cremaldi, chair and professor of physics, leads the department and its faculty.
“Don Summers has worked on many new ideas in physics, always pushing graduate students to question the status quo and think ahead. Likewise, members of our whole department have learned so much from Dr. Reidy over the years that I am sure Don felt the need to begin a fund for our top graduate students in Dr. Reidy’s name. Don has always been concerned about offering good support mechanisms for our graduate students, so taking all these factors into consideration, I am not surprised at this very generous gift.
“We have been discussing, how to best use the funds,” Cremaldi continued. “The support will allow the department to move our top graduate students into full research positions as soon as possible, as well as provide attractive fellowships to incoming candidates. Research support for graduate students is waning in many areas with government cutbacks. Graduate students provide the pool for sustaining a superior scientific research and development climate in the country. A fund to support a graduate student’s research enforces this potential and is very appreciated by the department and research supervisors.”
Summers, Reidy, Cremaldi and other faculty members in the UM’s high-energy physics research group have built a reputation for their research and also for advancing the understanding of this research. All are members of QuarkNet, a program involving some 60 universities and laboratories across the nation. The program brings high school students, physics teachers and particle physicists together to further physics education. Teachers and students work with real data from one or more laboratories in the organization and learn how to interpret the data. Other activities include actually fabricating components for the large detectors at Stanford or CERN.
UM’s Graduate School Dean John Z. Kiss said Summers’ gift will strengthen plans to advance graduate education.
“I was delighted to learn about the generous gift from Dr. Summers to support graduate students in experimental particle physics. As we look to expand graduate education at UM, we need forward- looking donors such as Dr. Summers. These types of gifts will help us to recruit the top students into our graduate programs. The Department of Physics and Astronomy has a strong faculty as well as nationally recognized research programs, so I appreciate this gift, which will help us progress in graduation education in this important area to the university,” he said.
Individuals and organizations interested in providing support can send checks payable to the University of Mississippi Foundation with the James J. Reidy Fund for Experimental Particle Physics Graduate Students noted in the memo line; the address is 406 University Ave., Oxford, Miss. 38655. For more information, contact Denson Hollis, senior director of development for the College of Liberal Arts, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-915-5092.