Charles O’Connor, the founding director of the Advanced Material Research Institute (AMRI) at the University of New Orleans and professor emeritus of chemistry, died Nov. 7. He was 73.
O’Connor, who retired in 2012 following a 33-year career at the University, was a world-renowned and respected chemist. He joined the UNO faculty in 1979 to teach and develop research programs in inorganic, solid-state and materials chemistry.
During his tenure at UNO, O’Connor directed the Ph.D and M.S. thesis research of more than a dozen graduate students, and the research activities of more than 40 post-doctoral students. Results of his research have been reported in more than 400 peer-reviewed publications in the scientific literature and more than 250 presentations at scientific conferences and symposia.
His research work at the University bore applications for the data storage industry and miniaturizations of electric devices and sensors, among other things.
O'Connor earned an emeritus Boyd Professorship at the University of New Orleans in recognition of his contributions to scientific research.
“His impact on the Department of Chemistry and AMRI were extensive and still continue today,” said John B. Wiley, director of AMRI and a chemistry professor, who collaborated with O’Connor on many projects after joining UNO’s faculty in 1992. “He will be sorely missed by myself and all his other friends and colleagues.”
In 2019, O’Connor and his wife, Sally E. O’Connor, donated $60,000 to help establish an endowed professorship in chemistry.
“I spent my whole career there,” O’Connor said during an interview about his donation. “I just thought I could give something back to the chemistry department and help them recruit faculty.”
That career included being the founding director of the Advanced Material Research Institute at UNO, which was developed to meet the research needs of the University in the area of materials science. The institute has established a research consortium that includes academic, government, and industrial participants and their research laboratories.
“In 1997, he established the Advanced Materials Research Institute with a major grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency,” Wiley said. “Through his continued dedication, he built AMRI up to a strong internationally recognized leader in nanomaterials research.”
O’Connor also help to develop an outreach summer research program at UNO for high school students, high school teachers and underrepresented minority undergraduates, and directed an effort at UNO to help develop a doctoral program in advanced materials and nanoscience as a collaborative program between Louisiana State University, UNO and Southern University Baton Rouge.
Born and raised in Chicago, O’Connor graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a doctorate in chemistry. He was known for his sharp sense of humor, generous spirit, loyalty, and tremendous courage and resilience in persevering through health issues later in life, his friends and family said. O’Connor also enjoyed listening to audiobooks, bopping to the oldies, passing time in the park, and devoting himself to family.
Survivors include his wife, Sally O'Connor, two daughters, Dr. Christine O'Connor and Emily Kashare, a sister, Margaret Tominosky, a brother, James O'Connor and four grandchildren.
In honor of his commitment to science, O’Connor’s family requests that contributions in his memory be made to the Charles J. O'Connor Scholarship Fund established at the University of New Orleans College of Sciences.