Tom and Ginny Cahill
Tom and Ginny Cahill

Cahill Gift to UC Davis Supports Environmental Research in Physics

A $300,000 gift from two UC Davis faculty members will enhance environmental research in the Department of Physics.

Thomas Cahill, professor emeritus of physics and atmospheric sciences, and Virginia Cahill, J.D. ’81, who teaches water law in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, established the Cahill Applications of Physics to Environmental Research Fund to encourage faculty in the Department of Physics to conduct research that tackles important environmental challenges. 

“The department is thrilled to receive this generous gift from Tom and Ginny Cahill,” said Andreas Albrecht, professor and chair of the Department of Physics. "They have identified a deep interest in environmental issues in the department, and have set up a beautiful way to harness that interest. Thanks to the intelligent vision of Tom and Ginny, I expect at least some of the projects supported will lead to ongoing nationally supported research programs, greatly amplifying the initial impact of this gift."

The pledge to UC Davis will continue Tom Cahill’s legacy of applying the principles of physics to environmental science. “I hope to bring the best of physics to solving environmental problems,” he said.

As director of the Crocker Nuclear Laboratory at UC Davis, Tom Cahill pioneered new ways to monitor aerosols, the small airborne particles that can adversely affect health. Cahill ran aerosol monitoring networks for the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service, among other agencies. After the World Trade Center attacks in September 2001, Cahill was one of the first scientists to warn that workers at the site faced health risks from airborne particles.

The Cahill Applications of Physics to Environmental Research Fund will provide $100,000 per year for three years to a faculty member in the Department of Physics. The funds may be spent at the faculty member’s discretion on research and student support. “We want to support a program that’s turning out really good science. In the environmental field, you have to be very, very good, or you’ll be ignored,” Tom Cahill said.

The Cahills’ commitment comes at a time of tremendous growth for the physics department. The department’s ranking in U.S. News and World Report rose from 45th in 1998 to 29th in 2014. The department also plans to expand from 46 tenure-track faculty to 55 faculty and add modern laboratory space in the next decade.

“We see physics as a very broad field,” said Ginny Cahill. “This is perfect for where UC Davis is now.”

Thomas Cahill joined the UC Davis faculty in 1967 and retired in 1994. His early work was in nuclear physics and astrophysics, but he soon became interested in applied research, especially air pollution. During the 1970s, Cahill was a key scientist in the effort to remove lead from gasoline in California. Cahill also contributed to cross-disciplinary collaborations at UC Davis, providing new insights about the Gutenberg bibles, the Dead Sea scrolls, J. S. Bach’s family bible and the Vinland Map. 

Virginia Cahill is a 1981 graduate of the UC Davis School of Law. In 1983, she joined the Sacramento law firm McDonough, Holland and Allen. While at McDonough, she represented the California Department of Fish and Game in hearings on Mono Lake. In 2001, she joined the California Office of the Attorney General as a deputy attorney general. There she worked on water rights and issues related to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and also represented the Central Valley Flood Protection Board. Cahill retired from the Office of the Attorney General in April 2009.

The couple has volunteered with the American Lung Association and Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails, working to reduce the impact of highway pollution on the health of people living nearby.

— Becky Oskin, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science

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