March 29, 2022

David J. Sellmyer, Ph.D.

David Julian Sellmyer, age 83, of Lincoln, passed away peacefully at home and surrounded by family, on March 25, 2022. Born in Joliet, Illinois, David was raised by Marcus and Della Sellmyer with his three sisters (Judith, Karyl, and Maureen) in Monee, Illinois, and graduated from Crete-Monee High School in 1956 where he played basketball, football, and baseball as well as the trumpet in the band. He attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Engineering Physics and met the love of his life, Catherine Zakas, whom he married in 1962.

He was accepted to graduate school at Michigan State University and the couple moved to Lansing, Michigan where Catherine worked as an elementary school teacher and David received his Ph.D. in physics. After graduation, they moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he worked as a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He stayed at MIT for seven years until accepting a faculty position in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1972.

Through his nearly 50 years at UNL, he had a profound impact on the Physics Department and became internationally known for his work related to magnetism, condensed matter physics, and nanotechnology. David served as the chairman of the department from 1978 to 1984 and was the founding director of the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience (NCMN) established in 1988. In these roles, he repeatedly brought science and engineering faculty together to write joint research proposals to federal agencies including the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy. In 2015, David secured funding from NSF to establish the Nebraska Nanoscale Facility (NNF). This Facility is part of 16 sites including Harvard, Cornell, Penn, Northwestern, and Stanford which constitute the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure program to serve academia, industry, and federal laboratories related to nanomaterials fabrication and characterization. David’s research career has been highly productive, authoring more than 700 publications, administering approximately $100M in extramural funding, and mentoring 30 Ph.D. students and 50 postdoctoral trainees, many of whom went on to their own independent faculty positions. He was instrumental in securing the funding and institutional support for the new Voelte-Keegan Nanoscience Research building on campus. David held the George Holmes Distinguished University Professorship. Recently, a permanently endowed faculty chair was gifted and named to honor his legacy of scholarly research and creative activities. The Sellmyer Chair will be used to recruit faculty members with a strong publication record, proven effectiveness in building experimental collaborations and success in securing collaborative grants.

David loved university life and was active in the culture it provided. He was a loyal Husker football and volleyball fan, although game days were also known to provide him with opportunities to work peacefully in his office and lab. He and Catherine regularly attended and enjoyed membership in the Faculty Dance Club and campus Episcopal church. In his free time, David loved to read, listen to classical music, tinker at his workbench, tend to the backyard garden, and take walks with one of the many black labrador retrievers whose company he cherished through the years. He enjoyed long summer weekends at Lewis and Clark Lake, caring for his sailboat or driving his kids and grandchildren on the motorboat. He particularly loved to jump off the boat and float in the water on a hot day. His travels with Catherine took them throughout the United States and internationally to China, Greece, Germany, Spain, and Canada.

David is fondly remembered for his faithful devotion to God and family, his passion for work, his generosity, empathy, wisdom, strength, and strong leadership. His memory will be cherished by his wife, Catherine, and their three children, Rebecca (Brian) Albert, Julia (David) Reddel, and Mark (Evan Pruitt) Sellmyer; 10 grandchildren: Lynnae and Stephen Albert, Michaela, Madeline, Allison, and Emily Reddel, and Avea, Crayton (Cy), Paige, and Julian Sellmyer.

MEMORIAL SERVICE: Friday, April 1, at 4 p.m. at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 6001 A St., Lincoln, Nebraska


MEMORIALS, in lieu of flowers, may be directed to: The David and Catherine Sellmyer Fund (Department of Physics) via the UNL Foundation, The Lincoln Symphony Orchestra, or The American Cancer Society.

SPECIAL THANKS: Cancer Partners of Nebraska and CHI Home Health.


  1. David will be greatly missed. Thoughts and prayers to his family.

    Generations Family Dental

  2. Sincere sympathy at this sad time of the loss of David. Thanks to both David and Cathy for your many talents and for ALL that you have contributed to the community and educational needs of Lincoln, Nebraska and beyond. We are forever grateful to you. Sincerely, Carol Meyer, Lincoln, Nebr.

  3. My thoughts and prayers are with Cathy and the entire Sellmyer family during this difficult time. David was very special to my mother and I will always remember how kind and generous he and Cathy were to her after my father passed and during her final years.

  4. David and Cathy have been instrumental in our lives since their Michigan State days. Dave was a wonderful man and will be missed greatly. Love you all!

  5. Dave was unfailingly kind. As a young professor from a small university, he could have safely ignored me, but he didn’t. He was interested in me; not my school, not what I could do for him. Just me. Dave was an exceptional human being. I think he lived a wonderful life. I am happy to have been a character in his story.

  6. Dear Cathy and family,
    I am very sorry to hear this sad news of passing away of Prof. Sellmyer. I pray for the eternal peace of the departed soul. May god give you whole family the strength to bear the pain of this irrecoverable loss.
    Prof. Sellmyer was very kind and supportive person. His support has shaped both my and my kids life. Even after I left UNL, we were working in collaborative projects. I will miss him and never forget him.

  7. Julia,

    Very sorry to hear about your father’s passing. May God give your family the grace of gentle grieving.

  8. Dear Kathy and family,

    Dan and I are so sorry to hear of David’s death. He was a good friend for all my years at UNL and SMOC. He always had a kind word, a humorous remark, and a twinkle in his eye. I know you will miss him very much. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

  9. He was a ve
    ry fine person and scholar. I served with him on many committees and respected his sense of humor and integrity. Peace, Paul Olson

  10. What a rich and productive life Dave lived. I am so sorry to hear of his passing, and my thoughts are with Cathy at this time.

  11. I worked for Dave for nearly 30 years. He was a wonderful boss, and I got to see first-hand his kindness, generosity, intelligence and incredible people skills. He worked tirelessly to grow materials research at UNL. I often observed his ability to bring people together to collaborate on research proposals. It was amazing to watch. He was also a very gifted writer and could make complex issues understandable to the average person. I have heard from many of his former students and colleagues this past week. He had a tremendous and profound influence on all of them. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to work with him all those years! Love, prayers and hugs to Cathy, Becky, Julia, Mark and their families.

  12. My deepest condolences to the entire Sellmyer family and to all of Dave’s friends, former students, and colleagues. We all mourn with you the immense loss of a wonderfully kind and generous person and a giant in his professional field. Dave was a truly transformative leader, scholar, teacher, and mentor at UNL. He will be greatly missed.

  13. Wyuka Funeral Director and all your staff,

    Thank you for all you did to make Dr. David Sellmyer’s funeral as good as we could hope for. May David’s soul rest in eternal peace, and may all who mourn find comfort in our Lord, his Lord Jesus Christ.

  14. Dear Catherine & family,
    I just heard of David’s death yesterday. Although I didn’t know him well I ‘m very sorry to hear of his passing. I thoroughly enjoyed his visit to the farm when you passed through Illinois a few years ago. I wish I had made the time to come out for a visit to meet the rest of his family. If any of you ever find yourselves near Pontiac, Illinois you would be very welcome you to visit.

    Laura Sellmyer

    • Thank you Laura, we may take you up on that one day! Rebecca (Sellmyer)Albert

  15. Dear Catherine & family,

    I, Dr. Shan, ZhengSheng was a student and co-work of Dr. Sellmyer during 1980 to 1990. Because of I have retired from California and back to China more than 10 years ago, plus this Pandemic, Chinese government locked people in their homes, so I couldn’t come to USA to pay my last respect to Dr. Sellmyer. To make up for the respecting to Dr. Sellmyer, I, ZhengSheng Shan have donated $2000.00 to the Fund.

    (Donghui and Yi on the behalf of Dr. ZhenShen Shan. )

    • Dr Shan, I remember you so well!! Our family always enjoyed when you and Dr Zhou would come over and have dinner with us. Thank you so much for your very generous donation. We wish the best to you and your family, and I hope we will meet again! Sincerely, Rebecca Albert (Dave and Cathy’s eldest)


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