Feb. 1, 1971–Feb. 13, 2023

When Professor Ephraim Woods published a paper in ACS Earth and Space Chemistry in summer 2020, he posted on Twitter an expression of his gratitude to his seven undergraduate co-authors. “When I started at Colgate in 2002, I often heard, sometimes from grant reviewers, that you can’t do experiments like this with undergraduate researchers,” he wrote. “Thankfully, I don’t hear that much anymore.” 

Woods was a brilliant scientist who conducted groundbreaking research in aerosol chemistry, but his most valued professional accomplishment was teaching and mentoring his students. He devoted his time to them by not just teaching chemistry but also getting to know them, providing guidance and support, and sharing life lessons.

“Professor Woods was very kind and patient and helped me cultivate my interest in research,” says Pomaa Ofosuhene ’18, who was one of the co-authors he thanked on Twitter. “He was truly a great mentor and kept in touch even after I left Colgate. My experience working with him taught me a lot, and it has been essential to my current work.” She is now earning her PhD in chemistry and credits that with working in his lab during the summer.

Mark Hilton ’17, another co-author on the 2020 ACS paper, remembers how, as a senior, he was the only student to enroll in Woods’ thermodynamics and statistical mechanics elective. Typically, an inadequate number of enrolled students would mean the class is no longer offered, but Woods turned it into an independent study elective so Hilton could participate. “Professor Woods was a wonderful, passionate, and selfless educator and person. He encouraged learning and exploration, after which I like to model my own teaching style,” says Hilton, who now works at Vanderbilt University.

Born in Ashland, Ky., Woods earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in chemistry and math from Transylvania University, obtained a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Wisconsin– Madison, and completed postdoctoral research at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

His research focused on reactions in Earth’s atmosphere that contribute to climate change. Specifically, he studied aerosols, which can carry pollutant molecules that are chemically transformed by sunlight in ways that affect the aerosols’ cloud formation and light-scattering ability, causing changes to the climate.

Published more than 20 times in prestigious journals, he had recently been notified by the Journal of Physical Chemistry that a 2019 paper of his was among the articles most cited by other researchers. His research was also consistently funded through grants, most commonly by the National Science Foundation.

A huge Colgate Raiders fan, Woods had been the faculty liaison for the men’s basketball team since 2011. He was a lifelong Kentucky Wildcats basketball fan, but “his Colgate Raiders were near and dear to his heart, and they were truly his team,” his family wrote in Woods’ obituary. He himself was athletic and enjoyed playing basketball. In addition, he was a talented guitarist and had recently enjoyed a reunion with his college band, Cold Fusion. A guitar had a place in his office, and he played his other guitars at home every day.

He also was a longtime member of the First Baptist Church in Hamilton, where he served on the Board of Trustees, as moderator, and as the technology support person.

Woods is survived by his wife, Kerri, who was his high school sweetheart; their two children; his mother; his mother-in- law; his brother-in-law; and two nephews. He was predeceased by his father and his father-in-law.