Julie Harmon in her lab at USF

Gift to USF honors Julie Harmon

Gift will establish an endowed chair, endowed graduate fellowship in chemistry

Feb. 14, 2022

The University of South Florida today announced a generous estate gift from Robert “Chip” Harmon in honor of his late wife, Julie Harmon, a pioneering polymer chemist and professor at USF for 25 years.

The gift, made through the USF Foundation, will establish the Dr. Julie Harmon Endowed Chair in Chemistry as well as the Dr. Julie Harmon Endowed Graduate Fellowship in Chemistry, both benefitting the College of Arts and Sciences. This will be the college’s first endowed chair in materials chemistry. 

“Dr. Harmon left an indelible mark on not only the University of South Florida, but on the world through her inventions and her students,” said USF President Rhea Law. “This generous gift from Mr. Harmon will serve to further cement her legacy at the university.”

The majority of the endowment will be used to support the chair holder’s scholarly work, including support for graduate and postdoctoral students. The remainder of the gift will be used to offer fellowships to graduate students with preference for those pursuing studies in materials science.

“I wanted to do something in her honor,” said Harmon, a retired pharmacist who met Julie during his studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. The two were married for 48 years. “I wanted to make sure she had a legacy that would be remembered. She loved her job. She loved research. She was in STEM before they called it STEM.”

One of Julie’s former students, Kadine Mohomed, PhD, praised her “brilliance, tenacity and vulnerability.”

“Her mentorship continues to shape my professional career on a daily basis. (She) inspired me to be a female scientist who is unwilling to dilute myself in order to fit in with the crowd,” said Mohomed, now a lead expert in thermal analysis of materials at W.L. Gore & Associates, an American multinational manufacturing company best known as the developer of waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex fabrics. “Julie initiated the spark that has allowed me to set my own path in my career. I am eternally grateful to Julie for her mentorship and belief in me.”

Julie’s career spanned both industry and academia. Before joining the USF faculty in 1993, she was a polymer research chemist at Eastman Kodak Research Laboratories. Her inventions there significantly advanced the capabilities of color printing. She later made groundbreaking advances in polymer nanotubes, radiation-resistant coatings and compounds used to detect improvised explosive devices. In all, she held 10 patents and was posthumously named a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors.

“Dr. Harmon touched the lives of so many during her years at USF, including her colleagues on the faculty and the students in her classroom and lab,” said USF Foundation CEO Jay Stroman. “We are grateful for her service and thank Mr. Harmon for this lasting tribute to her accomplishments.”