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In Memoriam: Maurice V. Barnhill

Campus remembers Maurice Barnhill, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy

Dr. Maurice V. Barnhill III, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware, died Oct. 3, 2016, after a short illness. He was 76.

He joined the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy in 1968, primarily pursuing research in high energy physics. He achieved the rank of full professor in 1987 and served as associate chair of the department for five years.  

The son of Maurice V. Barnhill Jr. and Margaret Zerbach Barnhill, he was born in 1940. He received his bachelor of science degree in physics with highest honors from the University of North Carolina as a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 1962 and earned his doctorate in physics from Stanford University in 1967. After one year as a research associate at the University of Virginia, he joined UD’s faculty.  

Dr. Barnhill wrote various publications, including Student’s Guide to Physical Science with Modern Applications. While he was in graduate school, the gravitational force on free electrons was investigated experimentally by Prof. W.M. Fairbank and his student F.C. Witteborn at Stanford. Prof. Leonard Schiff and then-Mr. Barnhill showed that gravitational forces on electrons in metals generated an upward electric field, often cited afterward as the Schiff-Barnhill effect.

Called Maury by his friends, Dr. Barnhill was proud of singing in his church choir and being an outstanding teacher and mentor for many next-generation people. Known for amusing speeches filled with mathematically based humor, he possessed a smile-inducing dry wit.

Dr. Barnhill was an innovator who changed Delaware ornithology, contributing as an author, mentor and observer. He was a co-author of Birds of Delaware (2000), and his blog “Where to Find Birds in Delaware” is used by visitors and residents as a guide to locating the best birding venues in the state. He published in the journal of the American Birding Association and was an active member of the Delmarva Ornithological Society (DOS) for 47 years. Elected a DOS Fellow in 1976, he served DOS as a member of the Records Committee, Council and as vice president. Dr. Barnhill was awarded the DOS's "Lifetime Achievement Award" last year.

He is survived by his brother, James H. Barnhill; two nieces, Christina B. Gunther and Caroline E. Barnhill; a sister-in-law, Georgia B. Barnhill; two cousins affectionately thought of as brothers, Dr. Hugh H. Mills and Dr. Michael Mills; two cousins-in-law, TuAhn  Mills and Ruth Mills; two great nieces, Sophia Venetianer and Deanna Gunther; a first cousin once removed and godson, affectionately thought of as a nephew, Nathaniel Mills; and the following first cousins once removed, also affectionately thought of as nieces and nephews: Katie Mills, and Dr. Richard Mills and his wife, Saffron Mills, and their children, Julian and Phoebe.

A service and reception will be held at 11 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 5, at the First Presbyterian Church, 292 West Main St., Newark. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to the Delmarva Ornithological Society, notating “In memory of Dr.  Maurice V. Barnhill.”

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