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In memory of Electrical Engineering Professor Rodney Dillon

Rodney O. Dillon died November 6 at age 69. He was a longtime member of UNL’s Department of Electrical Engineering faculty.

Dillon was born August 10, 1942 in San Diego, Calif., to Owen E., and Marjorie (Sies) Dillon. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.S. in Engineering Physics in January of 1965. He immediately took a position with Smyth Research Associates, a contractor to the U.S. Navy in San Diego, where he worked on the mathematics of communication theory for two years.  

Dillon started graduate work on solid state physics in September 1967 at the University of Maryland, working with Professor Ian L. Spain on electron transport properties of pyrolytic graphite. This began his ongoing study of carbon in various forms including graphite, diamond, diamond-like carbon and carbon fibers. After completing his Ph.D. in 1974, he took a post-doctoral position with Ron Bunshah at University of California, Los Angeles. He made thin films by electron-beam evaporation and was the first to synthesize the ordered semiconductor Gallium Indium Antimonide (Ga-In-Sb) by evaporation. He also synthesized (by high-rate evaporation) the Chevrel-phase superconductor Copper Molybdenum Disulfide (CuMoS2) and related layered superconductors unique for their highly anisotropic properties such as superconducting critical magnetic fields.

In 1978 Dillon joined the Physics Department at the University of Waikato in New Zealand where he taught, made velocity of sound measurements in thin films, and contributed to the theory of electron-transport in graphite. In 1982, Dillon began research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which included formation of films of poly-crystalline diamond, as well as diamond-like carbon. His most famous work was a systematic Raman spectroscopy study of bonding and atomic-scale disorder in a series of annealed diamond-like carbon thin films. This work was published in Physical Review B, 3482 (1984), and as of 2011, it has been cited more than 800 times by other scientists in their publications.

In 1986 Dillon was hired by UNL’s Department of Electrical Engineering, where he taught quantum mechanics, solid state physical electronics, solid state devices, and related topics. He advised graduate students, published, and regularly gave talks on research results from his studies with varied materials at meetings of the American Vacuum Society, American Physical Society, and the Materials Resource Society. Dillon’s work with colleagues included photochromic and thermochromic films that switch between metallic and semiconducting behaviors.  

UNL colleague John Woollam recalled, “I first met Rod when he was working on his Ph.D. and he and his adviser, Ian, would drive to the Lewis Research Center in Cleveland from Maryland to do transport experiments in NASA’s high-field superconducting magnets. Later Rod, Ian, and I did experiments on graphite transport using the Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory at MIT for experiments to 21 Tesla.”

After retiring from UNL in 2003, Dillon and his wife, Carolyn, traveled extensively. He enjoyed snorkeling in the Caribbean and Venezuela, and photographing birds. Their trips to the Pantanal of Brazil, the Peruvian Amazon, and Costa Rica were particularly rewarding for wildlife encounters. Dillon found a not-so-rewarding experience in the Patagonia of Chile, when a glacier calved and the wake submerged several people, including Dillon. The couple’s trip to Azerbaijan was a pleasant surprise, with the most incredible hospitality they ever experienced while he worked on a joint project with that nation’s Physics Institute. One of the Dillons’ last trips was to Outer Mongolia, where they traveled from the Gobi Desert to the Russian border, camping in “gers” along the way.

Dillon was a member of the APS, AVS, MRS, Tau Beta Pi Honorary Engineering Society, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

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