Esteemed U physics prof is remembered

Paul J. Ellis was honored with the Outstanding Teacher Award for 1980-81.

by Bryce Haugen

University physics professor Paul J. Ellis died of a heart attack Sunday in his St. Louis Park, Minn., home. He was 63.

Colleagues said they remember Ellis as an exceptional educator and researcher.

“Eulogies always overstate a person’s qualities, but that won’t be the case with Paul,” said Dieter Dehnhard, professor emeritus of physics, who worked with Ellis for 32 years.

A Northampton, United Kingdom, native, Ellis earned his physics doctorate from the University of Manchester in 1966. He spent seven years in postdoctoral fellowships before coming to the University of Minnesota in 1973.

Emeritus physics professor Ben Bayman, who helped hire Ellis, said the friendly professor’s accomplishments cannot be quantified.

“He was a great asset to the department – both in his research and also in teaching,” Bayman said.

During his time at the University of Minnesota, Ellis published more than 100 research articles, focusing on nuclear and astrophysics.

Several essays, including one on the properties of neutron stars, drew national attention.

University physics professor Joseph Kapusta, who edits a physics journal, said Ellis often helped with others’ work as well.

“He was probably an overworked referee, reviewing others’ work anonymously,” he said. “You could always count on him for an honest, fair job.”

The native Briton was a stickler about grammar, Kapusta said.

Ellis also taught classes and advised doctoral students.

Bayman said some students gave Ellis a certificate that said the three greatest British imports were The Beatles, “Monty Python” and Paul Ellis.

“That shows sort of the level of regard his students had for him,” Bayman said.

Ellis had an amazing way with students, which served as an example to young professors, said first-year physics professor Marco Peloso, whose office was next to Ellis’.

“He was a very good guide,” Peloso said. “(Ellis’ death) was a shock for us all.”

Physics professor Yong-Zhong Qian said Ellis was a personal mentor.

The University’s Institute of Technology honored Ellis with the Outstanding Teacher Award for 1980-81. And in 1998, Ellis was named a fellow of the American Physics Society.

Kapusta said Ellis will be missed as a colleague and friend. Ellis often helped with gardening and family pets, Kapusta said.

“It’s a great loss for the University to have a gentleman of his status go before his time,” he said.

Ellis is survived by wife Alicja Ellis, son Aleksander Ellis, daughter-in-law Yaara Ellis and grandson Kye Ellis.

There will be a visitation 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday with a memorial service to follow at the Washburn and McReavy Funeral Chapel in Edina, Minn. The family has requested memorials be sent to the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley, Minn.