The Nordlander Lecture Series

The friends and family of J. Eric Nordlander (Cornell, A.B. ’56), who died of cancer on March 20, 1986, sponsor regular visits to the Cornell campus of an eminent scientist or public figure.  The visitors address contemporary issues that were of special interest to Dr. Nordlander, who was an active research scientist and university administrator.  Preeminent among Dr. Nordlander's interests were issues that bear on the social consequences of science and technology, especially within the context of public policy determination.

The program’s founders hope to prompt both scholars and future leaders to refine and advance their thinking about the social responsibilities of scientists and engineers, their potential role in the quest for peace, and other aspects of the overall theme.

Throughout his career, Dr. Nordlander was noted for a steadfast commitment to excellence, an unwavering dedication to his students, exemplary service to the institutions at which he worked, and a sense of social responsibility that pervaded his professional and personal life.  He was a model scientist and academic statesman in part because he was also a model citizen.  In tribute to his ennobling example and in hopes of nurturing like qualities in future generations of Cornell alumni, his many friends established this program.  

The visiting scholar

The university regularly selects a Nordlander Visiting Scholar to spend several days at Cornell.  During the visit, the Nordlander Visiting Scholar presents a public lecture to the campus community and meets with Cornell undergraduates in both informal social settings, such as meals, and other academic settings arranged by the program’s governing committee.

J. Eric Nordlander

Born in Schenectady, Eric (“Ric” to his classmates) attended Deerfield Academy and graduated from Cornell with honors in chemistry.  He received the Cornell Federation of Men’s Clubs Outstanding Senior Award and was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Phi.

He received a doctorate in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1960 and spent a postdoctoral year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In 1961 he joined the faculty of Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University), where he directed an active research program in mechanistic and synthetic organic chemistry and was an outstanding teacher of both undergraduate and graduate students.

He was active in faculty and curricular affairs, chairing the faculty senate and initiating several programs designed to link the sciences and humanities.  His particular interest was a university’s responsibility to prepare its graduates for participation in debate on public policy.  For several years he taught a course on the development and technology of atomic weapons and their effects on world diplomacy.  He also served as a consultant to industrial and publishing firms and in 1983-84 was a program officer at the National Science Foundation.

In 1984 he became the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cleveland State University.  During his brief tenure at that institution, he expanded its instructional computer laboratories and was instrumental in upgrading the general educational requirements in the college.

His avocation was music.  At Cornell he sang with the men’s glee club and Cayuga’s Waiters, for whom he wrote original arrangements.  He was an accomplished jazz pianist and vibraphonist.  A member of the Cleveland Federation of Musicians, he played solo or with jazz groups in nightclubs and at private parties.

Eric was director of the University Christian Movement of Cleveland and a teacher, deacon, and elder at the city’s Fairmount Presbyterian Church.

Just weeks before his death, in March 1986, J. Eric Nordlander chose Cornell as the recipient of the fund that friends planned to establish in his honor.  He did so knowing that the alma mater he loved would welcome and nurture the program he helped design during his final days. 

List of Nordlander Lectures

  • Philip Morrison, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Fall 1987, “The Walled City of Omaha:  A Century of Mistaken Strategy”
  • Daniel Schorr, Political Journalist, Fall 1988, “Presidency in the Media Age”
  • Neil Holtzman, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Spring 1992, “Map or Maze:  Social Consequences of the New Genetics”
  • Peter Schuck, Yale Law School, Fall 1992, “An Awkward Embrace:  Science, Law, and Politics”
  • Ann Markusen, Rutgers University, Spring 1994, “Can Technology Policy Revitalize the American Economy?”
  • Yaron Ezrahi, The Israel Democracy Institute of Jerusalem, Israel, Fall 1994, “Science and Political Knowledge in Late 20th Century Democracies”
  • David Holloway, Stanford University, Fall 1995,  “Science, The Bomb, and Civil Society in the Soviet Union”
  • David Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley, Spring 1997, “The Will to Descend:  Culture, Color, and Genealogy”
  • Albert Teich, Science and Policy Program, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Spring 1998, “Endless Frontier or Just a Mirage?  The Future of U.S. Science Policy”
  • Shirley Malcom, Education and Human Resources Program, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Spring 1999, “Science for All: Are We Getting What We Pay For?”
  • Thomas P. Hughes, University of Pennsylvania, Spring 2000, "Public Participation and Environmental Concerns: Boston Central Artery Project"
  • Khotso Mokhele, National Research  Foundation of South Africa, Spring 2002, “Science, Democracy, and Development”
  • Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Spring 2003, "Malignant Nutrition: A Weapon of Mass Destruction?"
  • Ron Atlas, University of Louisville and American Society of Microbiology, Spring 2004, "Responsibilities of Scientists in the Age of Terrorism"
  • Freeman Dyson, Institute for Advanced Study, Fall 2004, "The Predictable and the Unpredictable: How to Tell the Difference"
  • Kathy Hudson, Genetics and Public Policy Institute, Johns Hopkins University, Spring 2008, “What's in your Genome? Personalized Medicine and Public Policy”
  • David Healy, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Spring 2009, “The Future of Medical Care: Can an Industrialized & Marketized HealthCare be made Universally Available?”
  • Paula Stephan, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University, Fall 2013, “How Economics Shapes Science”
  • Allison Macfarlane, Professor of Public Policy and International Affairs, George Washington University, Spring 2016, “The Fukushima Nuclear Accident: Is Nuclear Energy Still a Viable Choice for a Carbon-Constrained World?”
  • Mary Bassett, Commissioner, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Spring 2018, “Structural Racism and Health: From Evidence to Action”