Decision Honors Outstanding Contributions of Past Chair and Professor Emeritus William A. Jesser

The materials science building at the University of Virginia School of Engineering has a new name: Jesser Hall.

The UVA Board of Visitors approved the name in March, honoring a request from Greg Olsen, a distinguished alumnus (MSE ’71) and successful entrepreneur. Olsen made a historic $25 million gift to UVA Engineering that will endow professorships, Ph.D. fellowships and other strategic opportunities to advance the School’s research and education programs.

Olsen dedicated his gift to his own former Ph.D. adviser, materials science and engineering professor emeritus William A. Jesser. Olsen was Jesser’s first doctoral student in 1968, and Jesser went on to chair the department for 12 years.

“He had just joined UVA, and we hit it off,” Olsen recalled. “He was very easy-going and open, but very hard-working, building up his lab and establishing his position in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Anyone who worked with Bill Jesser worked pretty hard.”

Jesser said he is extremely honored by and appreciative of Olsen’s recognition. “Greg is just that kind of person. He feels good about doing good.”

Jesser is an outstanding academic researcher in the areas of thin films, nanoparticles, semiconductor materials and surface thermodynamics. He retired from the University of Virginia in May 2009, capping 41 years of leadership and service to the University and the commonwealth. Jesser is also a UVA alumnus, earning his bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in physics. His scholarship is recorded in more than 150 publications, 74 invited lectures and two patents. Jesser is recognized nationally as a fellow and life member of the American Society for Metals and fellow of the National Institute of Aerospace.

Jesser joined the Department of Materials Science and Engineering as an assistant professor in 1968, progressing along the tenure track as associate professor in 1972, professor in 1978 and Thomas Goodwin Digges Professor in 1989. Jesser was appointed chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in 1992, where he served until 2003.

The indelible bond between Olsen and Jesser is now reflected along Engineer’s Way. In 2000, Olsen made what was then the largest-ever gift to the Engineering School – $15 million toward the construction of Wilsdorf Hall, named for two of his other esteemed professors of materials science and engineering, Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf and her late husband Heinz Wilsdorf. The Department of Materials Science and Engineering is located in Wilsdorf, which shares its lab space and user facilities with other engineering departments.

“Greg’s gift of time, talent and treasure is an inspiration to all of us,” said John R. Scully, Charles Henderson Chaired Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and department chair. “Greg’s gift will extend the department’s long line of mentors, advisers and students, and assure future generations of materials scientists and engineers that they will always have a home at UVA.

“All who study and perform research in Jesser and Wilsdorf Halls will be inspired by their example to create a connected and sustainable world, solve global challenges and provide intellectual leadership in the field of materials science and engineering.”