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