March 30, 2010 — Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, a pioneering professor at the University of Virginia, died March 25 in Charlottesville. A funeral service is planned for 3 p.m. on April 1 at the University Chapel.
Born Feb. 15, 1922, in Bremen, Germany, Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf joined the University of Virginia faculty as a professor of engineering physics in 1963, when the U.Va. student body was predominantly male. She came to U.Va. as part of a two-career-couple when her husband, the late Heinz G.F. Wilsdorf, was invited to join the newly established Department of Materials Science. She was the first woman named as a full professor outside the schools of Medicine and Nursing.
She became a chaired University Professor of Applied Science in 1966, a title she held for more than 40 years.
She was internationally recognized for her path-breaking work in plastic deformation, surface physics and crystal defects. She wrote more than 300 scientific papers and started two companies, HiPerCon, for high-performance contacts, and Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf Motors.
Her many honors include selection as a member of the National Academy of Engineering and life member of the American Society for Metals International. She was a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Society for Metals International, the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society and the Society of Women Engineers. She received the Americanism Medal from the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1966; the Heyn Medal for her work on the theory of metal deformation from the German Society for Materials Science in 1988; the Ragnar Holm Scientific Achievement Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 1991; and U.Va.'s Christopher J. Henderson Inventor of the Year Award in recognition of her research and six patented inventions relating to electrical brushes in 2001. In 2004, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
In 2000, one of her former students, Gregory H. Olsen, was in a position to make a significant gift to the Engineering School. He wanted to help create a building for interdisciplinary materials research and he wanted to honor the Wilsdorfs, who were influential in his education and career. His $15 million lead gift led to the construction of the 99,000-square-foot, five-story Wilsdorf Hall.
Construction began in 2003, the building was dedicated in 2006 and in 2008 a portrait of Doris and Heinz was hung on the wall of the Wilsdorf Hall café. For information on Wilsdorf Hall, visit here.
Following her official retirement from the University, Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf taught a University Seminar course in science and religion, continued her research and participated in the Semester at Sea program. She remained a warm, friendly, intellectually engaged woman throughout her life and touched many people with her charm and wit.
She was predeceased by her husband and her children, Gabriele and Michael. She is survived by her niece and nephew Evelyn and Rene Kalous of Germany, and by close family friend Gretchen Watkins and her family of Charlottesville.