College of Science

Physicist Na'il Fazleev remembered for nobility, passion

Na’il Fazleev will be remembered as a brilliant physicist whose research in condensed matter theory, surface physics, nanomagnetism, and positron physics earned him international acclaim. But to those close to him, he will also be remembered as a hard-working professor who cared for his colleagues and students, and a gifted musician and athlete.

Dr. Fazleev, an associate professor in the Department of Physics, died October 9 at age 65 from complications of a stroke suffered two days earlier. A celebration of life service was held on October 11 at Moore Memorial Gardens followed by a reception and memorial at UT Arlington in the University Club in Davis Hall.

“Na’il was a key person in the history of our department,” said Alex Weiss, professor and chair of the UT Arlington physics department, and also a good friend and frequent collaborator of Dr. Fazleev. “He made tremendous contributions to our department in increasing the number of graduate students. He was always upbeat, always enthusiastic and always encouraging. I’ve heard from many faculty and staff telling me how much he had touched their lives, how he was a true gentleman and of how he will be sorely missed.”

John Fry, a professor emeritus in physics who retired in 2009 after 39 years at UT Arlington, also collaborated with Dr. Fazleev and formed a close friendship with him. Fry said that Dr. Fazleev and his wife, Rezeda, were like a brother and sister to him and his wife, Marilyn.

“He was a true scholar and lover of life, and he will be missed by UTA and all his friends in Texas,” Fry said at the celebration of life service. “Na’il was an important part of the graduate program in physics in both teaching and research. He brought millions of dollars of funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education to support graduate students and research at UTA.”

Dr. Fazleev’s involvement with UT Arlington began in 1982, when he spent a year studying physics with Fry on an International Research and Exchange Board scholarship. He returned in 1992 on a Senior Fulbright Lectureship and never left, serving as a visiting professor and associate professor. In 2004, he was hired as a full-time assistant professor, and he was promoted to associate professor in 2009.

He was the driving force behind the department’s push to receive a Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) grant from the Department of Education, heading the grant proposal committee. The department has received the research grant twice, providing critical financial support for graduate students.

Suresh Sharma, a professor of physics who met Dr. Fazleev in 1982 and wrote numerous papers with him, recalled his late friend as an extremely hard worker who had a penchant for procrastination.

“We once had a grant proposal that was due at 5 p.m., and he came in my office at 4:30 asking to read over the proposal again,” Sharma said. “He had already read it a million times and made as many changes, but he wanted to check everything one last time. He took it in his office and came back 10 minutes later and said it was OK. He cared about details.”

James Rejcek, a former Ph.D. student of Dr. Fazleev who earned B.S., M.S. and doctoral degrees at UT Arlington, said his mentor was passionate about physics and saw it as a noble profession.

“He always thought physicists should never stop looking for problems to solve. He worked hard and studied hard, and he expected the same of his students,” Rejcek said. “He was a deep and caring man. He really helped me when I was having a hard time in my life.”

His research interests included magnetic properties of solids, electron paramagnetic resonance, nuclear magnetic resonance, nonequilibrium statistical thermodynamics, surface physics and positron physics, among others. He was a member of the department’s Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics Group.

Dr. Fazleev was born on January 25, 1948 in Kazan, Russia to the late Gregor
and Katherine Fazleev, who were well-known academicians themselves. As a student he focused on science, math and English and excelled, completing the Russian standard 11 year curriculum as the top student in his class and receiving scholarships for university studies. A gifted athlete, he enjoyed swimming, rowing, track and chess, and also attended music school, where he learned to play the piano and the violin.

His father convinced him to focus on academics over music in college, and he enrolled at Kazan State University, a prestigious Russian college founded in 1804. He studied theoretical physics and mathematics, earning B.S. and M.S. degrees and graduating summa cum laude. In 1978 he became an assistant professor at Kazan, and in 1981, he completed work on his Ph.D. in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics.

After spending a year at UT Arlington he returned to Kazan, where he rose through the academic ranks to the position of professor and associate dean of the physics department, which consisted of 500 faculty members. He also became a leading authority in the dynamics of magnetic systems. In addition, it was at Kazan where he met his wife, Rezeda. They were married in 1988.

Dr. Fazleev might have spent the rest of his career at Kazan, but momentous events intervened and changed the course of his future. In the mid-to-late 1980s, the Soviet Union’s economy was suffering and many citizens of its member republics began demanding greater freedom. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev instituted a policy of glasnost, or political liberalization, emboldening many who sought change and helping pave the way for the eventual dissollution of the USSR in December 1991.

At the time, Dr. Fazleev was in the United States on a Senior Fulbright Lectureship studying theoretical physics at UCLA. With his homeland in political turmoil and economic crisis, he made the decision to make a permanent move to the United States. His wife joined him and in 1992 he returned to UT Arlington, where he became an internationally recognized expert in the theory of positrons at the surfaces of solids - knowledge important to understanding electronic properties of metals and semiconductors.

Fry recalled Dr. Fazleev’s love of the outdoors and of traveling. The Frys and Fazleevs spent many summer vacations together in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

“He loved trout fishing in the streams and backpacking up high in the mountains,” Fry said. “He was exceptionally strong at high altitude. He also loved eating freshly caught trout. Na’il also enjoyed sitting around the campfire and absorbing our culture through the tall tales told there.”

Weiss treasures the times he spent with Dr. Fazleev attending conferences in places like Japan and England. At Dr. Fazleev’s encouragement, they took in the local sights on hikes when time allowed.

“I remember we were in Australia and went hiking, and we saw koala bears and wallabies and all kinds of things,” Weiss said. “It was a fantastic trip. We often shared hotel rooms and we were a bit like the characters in ‘The Odd Couple’ - Na’il was the neat one.”

Dr. Fazleev wrote over 120 peer-reviewed journal articles and two books, and gave over 80 invited talks at international conferences, universities and national labs. He supervised six doctoral and 11 master’s students.

He is survived by his wife, Rezeda Fazleev; son, Kamil Fazleev, of Moscow, Russia; and a sister, Raviya Denisov, of St. Petersburg, Russia.

A scholarship is being established in memory of Dr. Fazleev. Donations may be sent to the UT Arlington College of Science, c/o Na’il Fazleev Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 19047, Arlington, TX 76019-0047.

Posted October 31, 2013