It is with deep sadness that the College announces the passing of Sister Mary Ellen Murphy, PhD, who passed away on Monday, July 27, 2015. Sister Mary Ellen served as academic dean, and then vice president and academic dean, at Saint Joseph’s College from 1983 to 1997.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to Sister Mary Ellen’s family and friends during this difficult time,” said President Jim Dlugos.
A Mass will be held Friday, July 31, 2015, at 1 p.m. in the Connor Chapel of Our Lady at the University of Saint Joseph, according to the university’s website. It will be preceded by calling hours from 10 a.m. to noon in the university’s chapel.
Sister Mary Ellen was a professor of chemistry at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut, and taught Planetary and Environmental Geochemistry to graduate students and General Chemistry and Environmental Science to undergraduates. She completed two years as a visiting senior scientist in the Astrochemistry Branch at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where she was a member of the Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) science team preparing a meteorite database for the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft that met the asteroid Eros on February 14, 2000, and a year later made a historic soft landing on the surface of Eros.
Her interest in meteorites goes back to her earlier doctoral research on the Orgueil meteorite, which fell in France in the 19th century.
As an organic geochemist, she was a co-investigator on Apollo 11 lunar rocks and a consultant to NASA on the Viking mission to Mars. She co-edited the research text Organic Geochemistry with Geoffrey Eglinton.
Formerly, she served as vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of Saint Joseph’s College (Maine) and as a professor of chemistry there for 15 years. She is an alumna (1950) of the University of Saint Joseph, received her master’s degree from Wesleyan University, and earned her PhD from Fordham University. Her doctoral research was sponsored by NASA at the University of California-San Diego under Bartholomew Nagy and Harold Urey, a Nobel Prize winner.
NASA also sponsored her post-doctoral research on the Green River Formation with Geoffrey Eglinton at Glasgow University, Scotland. The National Science Foundation sponsored her sabbatical research on petroleum source rocks from the Markham Delta in Indonesia while at the University of Strasbourg, France, with Pierre Albrecht and Guy Ourisson, and on the petroleum and source rocks from the Four Corners Area of the southwestern part of the United States with George Claypool at the US Geological Survey in Denver, Colorado. Her research interests included lunar rocks, meteorites, oil shale and petroleum source rocks, asteroids, and global warming.
She was a member of several scientific organizations and served as an officer of the Organic Geochemistry Division of the Geochemical Society. She received numerous honors including being named an International Scientist (2005) and election to the Connecticut Academy of Science. She enjoyed sharing research and scientific results of space exploration, environmental science, and global warming with varied audiences.