Former Head of New York Academy of Sciences, Rodney Nichols, Dies

A vice president of Rockefeller University for more than 20 years, Nichols also advised the White House, the NIH, and other groups.

Sep 7, 2018
Jef Akst
INGBERT GRÜTTNER/ROCKEFELLER ARCHIVE CENTER

Rodney Nichols, a former executive at Rockefeller University and the New York Academy of Sciences, died last week (August 30) at a hospice in New York City due to complications of lymphoma, The Washington Post reports. He was 80.

“Rod was a true renaissance man, knowledgeable on an extraordinarily broad range of subjects—from science and technology to education, history, international affairs, and the arts,” reads a New York Times obituary from Rockefeller. “We will miss Rod’s fierce intelligence as well as his wit, humor, and compassion.”

Nichols earned an undergraduate degree in physics from Harvard University. In his younger years, he did research and development for a defense contractor and then with the Department of Defense itself. 

Nichols joined Rockefeller University as a vice president in 1970. Among his initiatives, he helped send the university’s scholars to China and coauthored a study on the importance of science and technology in international affairs conducted at the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government. Over the years, he also served as an adviser to the National Institutes of Health, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and other government departments and agencies, the Post reports.

In 1992, Nichols became president and chief executive of the New York Academy of Sciences, and his tenure was rocky. He shut down The Sciences, the academy’s magazine that had been unprofitable for years, and suggested the institution sell its Manhattan headquarters, ruffling some feathers among the academy’s members. “Some people think I’m an assassin,” Nichols said in 2001, according to the Post. “I don’t feel good about the whole situation. I feel good about the decision. I don’t feel good in human terms.”

Nichols resigned in 2001, and began working as a consultant and writer. He is survived by his wife of seven years, a son, and two stepdaughters.