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dick nelson

Richard C Nelson (1932-2020)

Richard Nelson, a founding member of the ISB, passed away Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at the age of 88.  Richard (Dick) made broad contributions to biomechanics, and in particular to the ISB.

Dick was born in Albert Lea, Minnesota.  He received his undergraduate degree from St. Olaf College, Minnesota in Physical Education and Biology.  Upon graduation he joined the US Air Force attaining the rank of First Lieutenant.  In 1957 he earned a master’s degree from the University of Houston, and in 1960 received his Ph.D. from the Michigan State University.  From 1960 to 1964 he was an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, before moving to Penn State University where he achieved the rank of Professor in 1970.  In 1994 he retired from Penn State with emeritus status but remained active at Penn State until health issues impeded his ability to contribute.

At Penn State he founded the Biomechanics Laboratory in 1967, the first such facility in the US.  Dick worked hard to promote graduate education, in particular work with an emphasis in biomechanics.  He was always proud of the lab’s alumni; Dick advised 66 masters students, and 33 doctoral students.

In 1973 Dick along with Chauncey Morehouse organized and hosted the Fourth International Seminar on Biomechanics at Penn State.  These seminars were the precursors to the ISB Congress.  It was at the fourth seminar that the ISB was formed.  Dick served as the societies’ second President from 1977 to 1982.  He also served as the society treasurer from 1987 to 1989.  Dick attended ISB Congresses until ill health precluded such involvement.  At the XVIII ISB Congress in 2001 in Zurich, Dick delivered the Wartenweiler Memorial Lecture.  In recognition of Dick’s significant contributions to the ISB he in an honorary member.

The International Olympic Committee Medical Commission formed a sub-commission in 1982 on Biomechanics and Physiology.  Dick had petitioned since the early 1970s for the recording of athlete performances at the Olympics, with this new sub-commission and his membership of the sub-commission his dream became a reality.  Athlete performances were recorded for the first time at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, and have been a feature of both summer and winter games since then.

Dick’s research interests were broad and included,

  • Load carriage in the military
  • Body size and athletic performance
  • Starting techniques in swimming
  • Testing of landing surfaces
  • Development of football helmets

This research was augmented by an early graduate level text in sports biomechanics (Miller, D. I., & Nelson, R. C. (1973). Biomechanics of Sport. London: Henry Kimpton.).  He was also the founding editor of the International Journal of Sports Biomechanics, which eventually became the Journal of Applied Biomechanics.

Dick was an early proponent of the value of the biomechanical determination if an accident was the cause of an alleged injury (forensic biomechanics).  He became actively involved in forensic biomechanics contributing to over 500 cases.  At the Third North American Congress on Biomechanics (NACOB, 1998) he delivered a keynote titled “Forensic Biomechanics”.  Then at the XVII ISB Congress (Calgary, 1999) he organized a session titled “Forum on Forensic Biomechanics”.

Biomechanics has lost a significant figure, and the ISB one of its major progenitors.

John H Challis

Penn State

You can read more about Dick Nelson and his contributions to biomechanics here.