Issue Date: November 14, 2011 | Web Date: November 30, 2011
G. Davis (Dave) O’Kelley
G. Davis (Dave) O’Kelley, 82, a retired Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) nuclear chemist, died of lymphoma on Aug. 24 in Gainesville, Ga.
Born in Birmingham, Ala., O’Kelley earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Howard College (now Samford University) at the age of 16. He received a scholarship from the Alabama Academy of Science, which allowed him to earn a Ph.D. in 1951 at the University of California, Berkeley, working with the nuclear chemistry group of Glenn T. Seaborg, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry that same year.
O’Kelley moved to Oak Ridge, Tenn., in 1954 to join ORNL, where he would remain until his retirement in 1992. O’Kelley focused on research and production of special nuclear materials for industrial, scientific, and medical uses. Along with his colleagues, he developed large-scale separation and purification methods for transuranium nucleotides and other materials. In his later years with ORNL, he became involved with research in high-level radioactive waste materials. He contributed to more than 150 scientific publications.
While at ORNL, O’Kelley also served as the Ford Foundation Professor of Chemistry at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he received its D. A. Shirley Award. He also worked with the National Aeronautics & Space Administration during the Apollo spaceflights, receiving awards for serving as a principal investigator for a program to measure radioactivity in the first moon rock samples.
O’Kelley was active in the National Research Council and the National Science Foundation and was a fellow of both the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Chemists. He was a member of Sigma Xi, the Research Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was an emeritus member of ACS, joining in 1955.
An accomplished pilot, O’Kelley helped his wife, Genie Rae, develop a flight school in Knoxville. He had a lifelong interest in electronics and collected antique radios.
He is survived by Genie Rae, his wife of 61 years; son, Kevin; daughter, Joanne Kline; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
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