The Association of Southwestern University Alumni


John “J” Wehrley Chapman ’60, Distinguished Professional

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    Lance Holt

With a Bachelor of Science degree from Southwestern and a Ph.D. from Duke, John “J” Wehrley Chapman ’60 was a professor of physics at the University of Michigan for more than 30 years, achieving emeritus status in 2008. J has had no less than 14 research papers published in as many years. And, he can claim approximately 400 additional publications prior to 1998.

Even in retirement, J continued to be active in the ATLAS experiment at CERN, where, with his dedication, creativity and leadership, he was a driving force for the final, successful operation of the experiment. One of his colleagues says that J’s exceptional scientific competence is paired with a high level of social responsibility, personal modesty and integrity.

For those who may not know, ATLAS is a particle physics experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (known as CERN), that is designed to learn about the basic forces that have shaped our Universe since the beginning of time and that will determine its fate.

J’s professional career has been in the pursuit of knowledge about our physical universe, and, just as humanity is made richer through the contributions of artists creating poetry or novels or other expressions of art, we all benefit from a deeper understanding of the Universe and our place in it. In that regard, J’s colleagues call him a genius in teaching, motivating and guiding young scientists, and entrusting them with challenging yet solvable tasks.

Personally, J cares deeply about the well being and success of everyone around him and has been a dedicated and supportive mentor with an ability to care for others even at a cost to himself. With extraordinary tact and intuition, J is able to formulate professional criticism in a highly constructive way, pinpointing flaws and errors in the work of others without being condescending, thus maintaining their motivation for a continued cooperation in search of a better solution.

J is known to treat his post-docs wonderfully, building them up and working closely with them. In fact, a colleague says J’s popularity among students may be explained by the fact that he strives to communicate knowledge, rather than impress people with what he knows.

And J does know a lot! And he enjoys sharing his passions—things like physics, learning and wine—with others. One long-time friend says that half the time he doesn’t know what J is talking about, but his interest is always captured anyway. He says J takes the time to convey information through everyday language so that people say, “Oh, I get it!”

Whether in his creative and exciting work environment or at home, J is known for having true enthusiasm for life, boundless energy, and a natural curiosity. One of his sons says that he is someone who doesn’t fit in a “box,” explaining that J is an esteemed physicist doing amazing research, and at the same time, a country music lover and a bourbon aficionado.  There is nothing stereotypical about him! A friend says that with no neutral gear, J has never met a hike or bike ride too long for him.

J is a creative person with intellectual integrity and a warm sense of humor. He is always up for a good time; whether over a meal, a good conversation, or some good music, he is always enjoyable to be around. And, as many know, J can’t be beat on the dance floor!    

His fellow alumni say it’s fitting that J became a “high energy physicist” because he has always done everything with that level of enthusiasm. At Southwestern, J was known to be intelligent, athletic and slightly crazy, even winning a hula hoop contest at a party!

On the home front, J is the go-to guy for his three sons and his grandchildren, as well as friends and neighbors. He has always been the first person they call on when in need, and who they continue to call to this day.

J has also been a second father to his wife’s sons for 36 years. In fact, his stepson Kevin says it would be hard to find someone who J has affected more than him. He says J has been a teacher, a mentor, a guide, a hiking partner, a tennis foe, an example to follow, and a father.

Kevin was not able to be at the award ceremony, but says he put on Willie album and sipped a Wild Turkey in J’s honor. And, somewhere, Dr. Bob Brown—J’s mentor and Southwestern physics professor—was smiling!

For all J has done for his students and colleagues at Michigan; for his guidance, support and good advice; and for freely sharing his time and working on behalf of others, The Association of Southwestern University Alumni proudly presented J. Chapman with a 2013 Distinguished Professional Award.