E. Ward Plummer 2023 LSU College of Science Hall of Distinction Honoree
The LSU College of Science’s Hall of Distinction recognizes individuals who have distinguished themselves in their endless pursuit of excellence and fervent dedication to scientific leadership. Through their extraordinary achievements, outstanding characters, and commitments to their communities, the college’s honorees have established lasting legacies of excellence in their individual fields. On Friday, March 24, 2023, LSU recognized the exceptional accomplishments of E. Ward Plummer as a College of Science 2023 Hall of Distinction honoree.
E. Ward Plummer, LSU Boyd Professor, Physics & Astronomy (posthumously)
“My legacy will be the minds I molded; not the papers I wrote or the prizes I won.”
Dr. E. Ward Plummer was one of the world’s leading experts in electron spectroscopy and its application to the study of the electronic structure of a range of materials, with a particular emphasis on surface properties. He was a central part of the team that developed single-electron spectroscopy, which enabled the first-ever glimpse into electronic energy levels of atoms at the surface of a metal.
Plummer was 68 when he joined the LSU faculty in 2009 and was already an accomplished physicist, having earned his B.A. in physics and mathematics from Lewis and Clark College in 1962, followed by his Ph.D. in physics at Cornell University in 1967. After completing a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), he remained a staff scientist at the institute until 1973. In the fall of 1972, Plummer went into academia starting in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania, followed in 1993 by a joint appointment as a Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Tennessee and as a Distinguished Scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and finally to the Department of Physics and Astronomy at LSU in 2009, where he was given the university’s highest, most prestigious honor of being named a Boyd Professor in 2017. In 2006, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors bestowed upon an American scientist.
Plummer's irreplaceable contribution to LSU was his commitment to transforming the fragmented materials efforts at LSU, which had concentrated on individual investigators, into a more coherent collaboration, bringing together faculty from different departments and colleges. He served as Special Assistant to the Vice Chancellor of Research at LSU and developed the Institute for Advanced Materials and the Shared Instrumentation Facility (SIF) at LSU that formed a partnership between LSU’s Office of Research & Economic Development (ORED), the Colleges of Science and Engineering, 13 departments, and over 100 faculty involved in Materials Research and Engineering on the LSU campus. This had a tremendous impact in bringing people together and forming collaborations that pushed the scientific frontier, a recurring characteristic throughout his career. This collaboration between interdisciplinary materials researchers was instrumental in bringing a DOE Neutron Scattering Center to LSU. His resolve to raise LSU's level of recognition extended far beyond materials science as well. Plummer continuously worked to nominate his LSU colleagues for national awards, significantly increasing recognition given to faculty members across the Colleges of Science and Engineering.
His ability to bring like-minded visionaries together was recognized on an international level when he served as the Scientific Advisor for the International Center for Quantum Structures sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In that role, he worked to build a pool of talented professionals with international vision and formed a dual degree program with the help of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where students would split time taking courses and doing research at both LSU and institutes in China. Chinese President Xi Jinping presented Ward with the Award for International Science and Technology Cooperation in 2017.
Perhaps Plummer's most enduring legacy is in the next generation of scientists he impacted. Over his faculty career of about 47 years, he mentored more than 50 graduate students and more than 30 postdoctoral fellows, many of whom have gone on to distinguished scientific careers themselves. Plummer’s legacy will continue at LSU as he left a portion of his estate to endow a Superior Graduate Student Scholarship and Plummer Professorship at LSU. One of Ward's favorite quotations, which he posted on his website, was, "My legacy will be the minds I molded; not the papers I wrote or the prizes I won." Plummer passed away on July 23, 2020, at age 79.
Established in 2004, the LSU College of Science Hall of Distinction celebrates individuals who make significant contributions to science, business, academia, or government as well as to their community. Individuals do not have to be an LSU alumnus to be nominated for induction, but must have a meaningful connection to the College of Science.
LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy