Loss of Longtime Professor Ray Hefferlin

Southern mourns the loss of research professor Ray Hefferlin Ph.D, D.Sc, who passed away on Sabbath, March 7, 2015.

A memorial service for Hefferlin will be held in the Collegedale Church sanctuary on Wednesday, March 25 at 4 p.m. Live streaming for the event will be available on the Collegedale Church's website.

Hefferlin came to Southern in 1955 and has been a member of the teaching faculty since then. During his time at Southern, Hefferlin taught classes in physics, astronomy, and mathematics.

Hefferlin's dedication and faithful ministry will be greatly missed by the Southern community. 


Ray Hefferlin, a globally-renowned physicist, Southern Adventist University professor, and beloved husband and father, died Saturday, March 7, 2015. Though his research and professional curiosity would take him all over the world, Hefferlin loved the Chattanooga area and spent the last 60 years calling Collegedale home.

Hefferlin was born in Paris, France, in 1929 and moved to California with his father at the age of seven. He received his bachelor’s degree from Pacific Union College in 1951 and later a doctorate from California Institute of Technology. He married Inelda Phillips in 1954 and shortly thereafter accepted a position as professor at Southern in 1955.

Hefferlin’s passion for physics was evidenced early on as a young professional. He spent the summers of 1957 and 1958 in California at the National Radiation Defense Lab and even witnessed two atomic blasts. His research there, combined with his job at Southern, led to consulting positions with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, near Knoxville.

During the 1960s Hefferlin received his first research grant and focused on experimental spectroscopy, studying the interaction between matter and radiated energy. By the 1970s, he switched to more theoretical work and, along with Southern students and a colleague in New York City, began creating a chart (similar to the periodic table of elements) that organized diatomic molecules in a way that highlighted their similar properties. Always in pursuit of better data, Hefferlin led his team in refining this chart through the years. The end result was a definitive work that is being used today by students and scientists internationally.

Despite these and other successes—Hefferlin published more than 80 peer-reviewed articles on a variety of topics and met or corresponded with nearly a dozen Nobel Prize winners—he mentored Southern students with humble and heartfelt enthusiasm. Countless projects moved forward under his watch and graduates who studied with Hefferlin have worked in such notable fields as Higgs boson research and human genome sequencing. 

Age had little impact on his professional vigor and willingness to support students with similar intellectual interests. Last year he traveled to Turkey with Southern senior Josh Barrow to attend the International Advances in Applied Physics and Materials Science Congress. During a recent interview with Southern’s campus magazine, Hefferlin described what motivated him, and others, to live a life consumed by this level of drive for new understandings. 

“For many students, research is the holy grail that their individual make-up has been harboring unknown for years. For some, it’s music or art. But for those in physics and engineering, it’s finding what God has put into nature for them to discover.”

 Hefferlin is survived by his wife, Inelda; daughters, Lorelei Hefferlin Powers (and husband, Steve), Jennifer Hefferlin Harrell (and husband, David), Heidi Hefferlin (and husband, Craig Kronenberg), and Melissa Hefferlin (and husband, Daud Akhriev); seven grandsons, one granddaughter, and two great grandchildren. His memorial service will be held at the Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists on Wednesday, March 25, at 4 p.m. Don Hall, a 1960 Southern graduate and among the first students Hefferlin mentored on a research project, is offering one of the eulogies.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to the Ray Hefferlin Endowment Fund at Southern Adventist University which provides need-based scholarships for physics and engineering students 

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