In memoriam: Suresh Sharma, physics department pioneer

The University of Texas at Arlington Department of Physics is mourning the loss of one of its pioneers, a respected researcher in condensed matter physics and a mentor who cared deeply for his...

Monday, Aug 23, 2021 • Greg Pederson :

Suresh C. Sharma
Suresh C. Sharma

The University of Texas at Arlington Department of Physics is mourning the loss of one of its pioneers, a respected researcher in condensed matter physics and a mentor who cared deeply for his students.

Suresh Chandra Sharma, a professor of physics who started his 45-year career at UTA as a postdoctoral fellow in 1976, died August 14 following a long illness. He was 76.

A funeral service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, August 24 at Moore Funeral Home in Arlington. The service is not open to the public, but it will be streamed live at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZjXJbbqQU4.

Sharma’s areas of research interest included surface plasmon resonance spectroscopy and sensor development, thin films, nanomaterials, and superconductivity. He was a founding member of UTA’s internationally recognized positron physics group.

“Professor Sharma was a pioneering member of our department and of the College of Science,” said Alex Weiss, professor and chair of the Department of Physics. “He was one of the first members of our department faculty to engage in funded research. In addition to his service to UTA, he was a major contributor to the scientific community. Perhaps his greatest contribution to science and education was through his mentorship of his many students. I know that I speak for everyone in the department in saying that he will be deeply missed.”

Nader Hozhabri, facility manager of the UTA Shimadzu Institute Nanotechnology Research Center, met Sharma when Sharma became his doctoral program advisor in 1986. After Hozhabri earned his Ph.D. in 1989, he and Sharma remained friends and collaborated on numerous projects and publications.

“He was a good friend, a good man and a good scientist,” Hozhabri said. “He left behind a great number of achievements, in terms of mentoring students and postdocs, and publishing scientific articles. He was like a brother to me. I had a great respect for him, and he will be in my thoughts forever.”

John Fry, a professor emeritus and a pioneer of the department himself, remembers Sharma for playing an important role in the building of the department’s reputation as UTA transitioned from a teaching college to a major research institution.

“After the department hired the first wave of research faculty starting in 1965, those faculty were able to use research grants to bring in quality postdoctoral fellows, and Dr. Sharma was one of those,” Fry said. “He was then promoted to regular faculty status and he was a very productive research faculty member, winning grant funds, publishing research results and directing graduate students.”

Fry said that while the department initially had few resources to build research labs or support research expenses, Sharma and others hired in the late 1960s through mid-1970s were successful in overcoming this disadvantage. Through their hard work, they provided the department with a research reputation that could finally attract high quality research faculty, he said.

“Dr. Sharma was successful at winning grant funds – a very difficult task anytime, but especially in those days when UTA physics was not known as a research department nationally,” Fry said. “He took on teaching duties ably and was active in helping direct departmental goals. His work with graduate students was exceptional, and his lab produced many published scientific results.

“He was friendly and a gentleman at all times, but he sternly stood his ground about issues that mattered to him. He provided rigorous training for his students, which prepared them well for careers in physics. He was an important faculty member who helped advance the UTA physics department to a status appropriate to a major research university.”

Sharma was born June 6, 1945 in Ghazibad, India. He received a B.S. degree in Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics from Agra University (now Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar University) in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, in 1965. He went on to graduate school at Meerut University (now Chaudhary Charan Singh University) in Meerut, India, where he earned an M.S. degree in Physics in 1967.

He worked as a research fellow at the University of Delhi, India, from 1967-69 before coming to the United States in 1969. He enrolled in the physics doctoral program at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., in 1970 and earned his Ph.D. in Solid State Physics in 1976. That same year he accepted a position as a postdoctoral research associate at UTA.

From 1977-80, Sharma was a visiting assistant professor at UTA and he was hired as an assistant professor in 1980. He was promoted to associate professor in 1984 and was named full professor in 1990.

He served as associate director of the UTA Center for Positron Studies from 1980-82 and as director of the center from 1983-97. He was also director of the UTA Center for Nanostructured Materials from 2007-10.

Sharma authored or co-authored more than 130 research publications made more than 230 presentations at conferences, colloquia, and symposia around the world. He also held several U.S. patents.

“His scientific papers provided new understanding of positron interactions in solids and the use of positrons as probes of matter,” Fry said.

In 2014 Sharma received the Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Section of the American Physical Society (APS), for his significant contributions to the programs of the Texas Section and to the Texas physics community. He was inducted into the UTA chapter of the National Academy of Inventors in 2014. In 1987 he was named Professor of the Year by the Society of Physics Students (SPS) UTA chapter. He also received the Outstanding Research Contribution Award from Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, in 1980.

Sharma served as vice president of the APS Texas Section in 2008-09 and as president in 2009-10. In 1992 he was an elected member of the scientific advisory committee of the International Workshop on Positron and Positronium Chemistry, as well as an elected member of the executive committee of the Texas Section of the American Association for Crystal Growth.

He served as chair of the Joint Meeting of the APS Texas Section, American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), SPS, Forum on Industrial and Applied Physics, National Association of Black Physicists, and National Association of Hispanic Physicists in 2006; as chair of the Joint Meeting of the Texas Sections of APS, AAPT, and SPS in 1996; as chair of the International Symposium on Positron Annihilation Studies of Fluids in 1987; and as co-chair of the Sixth International Conference on Positron Annihilation in 1982.

Sharma enjoyed traveling and cherished time spent with his five grandchildren. He loved music and later in life learned to play the harmonium. After mastering the instrument, he regularly played and sang devotional songs, called bhajans, at the DFW Hindu Temple in Irving, where he was a longtime member.

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Santosh; daughter, Sarita Louys and son-in-law, Donmiguel Louys; son, Arvind Sharma and daughter-in-law, Virginia Sharma; and grandchildren, Aryana Louys, Dhilan Louys, Neelan Sharma, Kadin Sharma, and Alexandria Matatrejo.