Clifton "Cliff" Chancey III

Courtesy Photo

CEDAR FALLS | The head of University of Northern Iowa's physics department died last weekend, leaving behind a 12-year legacy as a steadfast leader.

C. Clifton "Cliff" Chancey III died Saturday at age 58 after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease. It affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, leading to a loss of control of muscle movement and eventually, paralysis.

"It's hard when three months ago someone you knew well was walking around and now, he's not," said Paul Shand, a professor of physics who took over as acting department head at Chancey's request.

As a theoretical physicist, among Chancey's interests were atomic and molecular theory, biophysical modeling and neuroscience. In some of his most recent research he was studying the physical processes involved in neural transmission.

Chancey's health declined quickly over just a short period, leaving the eight faculty of the closely knit department stunned.

"We knew it was coming. We had a few months," said Tim Kidd, a physics professor Chancey hired in 2005. "But it's crazy how fast it went."

Chancey's colleagues said last Spring they started to noticed Chancey was slurring his speech. Shand accompanied him to Sartori Memorial Hospital in Cedar Falls after presuming he'd had a stroke. But when Chancey took a fall at work, he was taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for further evaluation and eventual diagnosis.

"When he realized he was ill, he asked me to take over as head of the department. There was no way I could tell him no," Shand said.

Searching for a way to slow the progression of his disease, Chancey traveled to Beijing, China to explore a possible medical treatment.

UNI President Bill Ruud and Provost Gloria Gibson issued a message Monday on behalf of the university.

"We will always remember Cliff for his kindness, humility, and his devotion to academe. His research, teaching and service to the discipline of physics will impact many future Physics researchers, teachers and scholars," it read.

Chancey joined the UNI campus in 2001, fighting a years-long battle for a multimillion dollar renovation of the century-old Begeman Hall, formerly known as the Physics Building.

He sat in on almost every meeting with the project's contractor, studying its blueprints to ensure his faculty received the laboratory and facilities they required.

Earning degrees from Miami University of Ohio and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, he completed three years of postdoctoral research at Oxford University in England.

While at UNI, he developed a professional science masters degree program, established in 2006. It prepared students for management positions with a curriculum of business and advanced mathematics and science courses.

"He was really dedicated to students," Kidd said. "Any time they needed help with a class, they could come in and he'd help...He had a very personal touch."

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church with burial in Fairview Cemetery, both in Cedar Falls. Visitation was scheduled for 4 to 8 p.m. today at Richardson Funeral Service and also for an hour before services Saturday at the church.


Cedar Falls/UNI education reporter for the Courier

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