College of Science; Research

Retired Clemson physicist Terry Tritt receives prestigious society’s 2020 Outstanding Achievement Award


Terry Tritt portrait
Terry M. Tritt, former chair of physics and astronomy, was named the 2017 recipient of the Class of ’39 Award for Excellence.

CLEMSON, South Carolina – Terry M. Tritt, who retired from Clemson in 2018, was recently honored as a recipient of the International Thermoelectric Society’s 2020 Outstanding Achievement Award.

Tritt earned his undergraduate (‘80) and doctoral (‘85) degrees from Clemson and came back as a faculty member in 1996 after serving as a National Research Council Fellow and then as a research physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

“I have been a member of the International Thermoelectric Society for about 25 years,” said Tritt, Retired Emeritus Alumni Distinguished Professor of Physics in the College of Science’s department of physics and astronomy. “I served on the board of directors for several terms. This award is something we created in 2010 to acknowledge people who made a lifetime impact on the field of thermoelectric materials research. It’s a great honor to be selected for this.”

The organization’s 2020 conference was to be held in Seattle starting June 28 but was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Tritt now plans to travel to Krakow, Poland, the site of the 2021 conference, to receive the award. He called the honor “a crowning jewel” of his career.

Tritt with a student
During his long and distinguished career at Clemson, Tritt says that he derived the most satisfaction from working with students. Here he is shown bumping fists with Ph.D. student Arash Dehkordi at the August 2014 graduation.

Tritt was the recipient of the 2008 S.C. Governor’s Award for Excellence in Scientific Research and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He has written more than 200 peer-reviewed journal publications and 20 review articles, and his work has received more than 18,000 citations. In addition to owning four patents, Tritt has edited 13 books and given more than 150 invited presentations at national and international meetings, as well as many university seminars.

“This is certainly one of the highlights of my career,” he said. “In 2017, I was selected for the Class of ’39 at Clemson, which is the highest faculty honor that can be given to a faculty member at Clemson.”

The Class of ‘39 Award for Excellence is presented annually to one distinguished member of the faculty whose outstanding contributions for a five-year period have been judged by his or her peers to represent the highest achievement of service to the university, the student body and the larger community.

But Tritt said he would have none of these honors without a strong team behind him.

“This award is really shared by the 21 Ph.D. students who I graduated at Clemson,” he said. “They were phenomenal, and without them, this would not have been possible.”

Tritt also credits colleagues Jian He and Joe Kolis at Clemson, Joe Poon at the University of Virginia, and George Nolas at the University of South Florida for their support for many years.

Terry Tritt with grandson.
Tritt says that he has been enjoying his retirement, including spending time with his grandson, Gabriel, and his other grandchildren.

When Tritt returned to Clemson as a faculty member, he started the Complex and Advanced Materials Laboratory. Tritt is especially proud that seven of the 21 Ph.D. students in his lab were female, a percentage that far exceeds what is typical in the field.

“The primary focus of our lab was to look at novel materials for applications in thermoelectric power generation and refrigeration,” he said.

Tritt is spending retirement in nearby Pendleton, still teaching, but with a decidedly different focus.

“I’ve had my 4-year-old grandson here since early March and we’ve been planting a garden, making wood projects, going trout fishing,” he said. “Every day, we plan projects and we build birdhouses and picnic tables. He’s like a sponge soaking it all in. I’ve been able to start playing golf again. I’ve even been able to reassemble my old bluegrass band, The Grass Roots Revue, and I’m playing a lot of music. I’ve got five granddaughters and one grandson and I’m basically spending my life now just enjoying them and doing things with them. It’s fun to teach and mentor again, just like it was with those students.”

Tritt’s legacy can be seen in the love reciprocated by his former students, many of whom reached out to express their joy when they learned of his recent award.

“My proudest achievement is those students,” he said. “It really is. I had a great relationship with them, and I continue to have a great relationship, even years afterward.”

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