Remembering Richard C Nelson (1932-2020)

February 22, 2021

by John Challis

Richard Nelson (Dick) a founding member of the American Society of Biomechanics passed away Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at the age of 88.

Dick received this undergraduate degree from St. Olaf College, and graduate degrees from the University of Houston (M.Ed., 1957), and Michigan State University (Ph.D., 1960).  He was then an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, before moving to the Pennsylvania State University in 1964, retiring with emeritus status in 1994.  Dick was an enthusiastic promotor of biomechanics, and sports biomechanics in particular.  His work in this area included studies on pole vaulting, treadmill running, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, and diving.  In these studies he was typically aided by his graduate students which included 66 master’s students and 33 doctoral students.  His passion for sports biomechanics led him in 1985 to being the founding editor of the International Journal of Sports Biomechanics (in 1993 the journal was renamed Journal of Applied Biomechanics).

Dick was a founder member of both the American Society of Biomechanics, and the International Society of Biomechanics; serving as the President of latter society (1977-1982).  He was a strong advocate for the internationalization of science, and biomechanics in general.  Dick was instrumental is getting athlete performance recorded at the Olympics, eventually serving on the International Olympic Committee’s Sub-Commission on Biomechanics and Physiology.  Towards the end of his career he became involved in forensic biomechanics being an expert witness in over 500 cases, and organizing conference sessions and delivering a keynote on the topic.

His students and colleagues will remember Dick for his mentorship, generosity, and sense of humor.  Dick made significant contributions as a teacher, mentor, administrator (society president and journal editor), and promotor of biomechanics.

The following links provide more about Dick’s family and career,


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