Professor Jim Sites establishes endowed professorship for Department of Physics

Portrait of Jim Sites
Jim Sites

This academic year will mark Professor Jim Sites’ 50th year at Colorado State University. In honor of the Department of Physics, which he’s called home for a half century, Sites has made a personal gift that establishes the James R. Sites Endowed Professorship.

The first such professorship within the department, the endowment provides research operations funds for an incoming faculty member. It is meant to support the department and College of Natural Sciences’ efforts in attracting and retaining bright new faculty who represent the future of CSU.

Sites is modest in his motivations for the gift: “It was something I was able to do,” he said. “I did talk with [College of Natural Sciences Dean] Jan Nerger about what things could make a difference. Obviously, there are a lot of things donations can do, but this was something we have not had available in the physics department, so I thought it might be time.”

“Jim’s contributions to the department, the college and CSU are immeasurable,” Nerger said. “His gift adds to the profound legacy that he has in the physics world and ensures that the physics department continues to excel. I thank Jim for his commitment to physics, the leadership that he has shown in his 50 years at CSU, and his generosity.”

Interest in photovoltaics

Sites first came to campus in 1971 as an instructor in physics. Just a few years after arriving at CSU, he became interested in the growing field of photovoltaics. With colleagues, Sites began investigating various thin-film materials for their light-to-energy conversion properties, eventually specializing in characterization and performance of photovoltaic materials made from cadmium telluride. He and collaborators have been supported by millions in federal research grants over his career, most recently a $3.5 million grant from the Department of Energy for investigating improvements in the back contact of cadmium telluride solar cells.

Sites said he hopes the visibility of an endowed professorship will allow the department to attract faculty they might otherwise not be able to. “It occurred to me that if I stepped up and did something, maybe other people would as well.”

Sites deliberately left the terms of the endowed professor position open to the department’s discretion, not necessarily reserved for someone who works in his field, or even broadly in solid-state physics. “It’s whatever the department decides is best at the time,” he said.

‘Truly remarkable’ gift

Jacob Roberts, chair of the Department of Physics, said he has always been appreciative of Sites’ dedication to the department over the years, “but this gift of an endowed professorship is truly remarkable, and I am very thankful for it.”

“The ability to recognize outstanding faculty, and to have resources that enable the implementation of new ideas, will make the department even better,” Roberts said.

Sites said while others have written endowments into their wills, he especially wanted to establish the professorship now, while he is still an active faculty member. “When I donate money, I like to see what happens with it. I’m looking forward to seeing what the department decides to do.”

The Department of Physics is in the College of Natural Sciences.