James Arthur Nicholls, a 27-year active faculty member in UM’s Department of Aerospace Engineering passed away on October 9th, 2018. A pioneer in rotating detonation engines, Professor Nicholls was the first ever to create a standing detonation wave in his research. He served as head of UM’s Gas Dynamics Laboratory from 1966-1985; he is remembered with gratitude, respect, and fondness for the supportiveness and willingness to help that he consistently displayed toward his students and fellow faculty members.
Professor Nicholls, born in 1921, began his career in aerospace during his WWII Navy service, for which he was a multi-engine aircraft combat pilot in the North Pacific. After his military service ended, he received his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan’s Department of Aeronautical Engineering in 1951 and 1960, respectively. He immediately joined the department’s faculty upon receiving his Ph.D., launching his distinguished career in academia.
Over the course of his career, Professor Nicholls published over one hundred research papers and advised many Ph.D. candidates. He also earned many recognitions for his leadership in his field, including the Stephen S. Attwood Excellence in Engineering Award, a high honor that “recognizes a faculty member who has extraordinary achievement in teaching, research, service, and other activities that have brought distinction to the College and the University.”
We remember and thank Professor Nicholls for his achievements in the combustion and detonations field and for his contributions to his University of Michigan community. Visitation and funeral services will be held on Sunday, October 14th and Monday, October 15th. For more information on his research in the combustion field, see the 2017 article, “Rotating Detonation: The Old is New Again.”