NYU Steinhardt Remembers Arthur J. Nelson, Jr., Physical Therapy Professor and Chair

Arthur J. Nelson Jr., former chair of Steinhardt’s Department of Physical Therapy died on November 7, 2010 in his home in Neptune, New Jersey. He was 78.

An internationally renowned researcher, Nelson discovered his passion for physical therapy at Boy Scout Camp where he taught a young boy with polio how to swim. Nelson earned his BS degree and physical therapy certificate in 1954, his MS in 1958, and his PhD in 1966 from NYU Steinhardt.

In a 36-year career at NYU, he served as instructor, associate professor, and was later appointed professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy in 1970. Nelson was instrumental in establishing the department’s doctoral degree program.

Among Nelson’s notable contributions to the research in his field was a study on “The Relationship of Gamma De-efferentation to Tension in Skeletal Muscle.” His paper, “The Functional Ambulation Profile,” published in 1974, lead to the development of an objective ambulation score that was adopted by clinicians and researchers worldwide. Nelson also developed the GAITRite System, a computerized method of measuring footfalls.

Nelson received a Distinguished Service Award from the New York Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), and was named the APTA’s Catherine Worthingham Fellow in 1990. In 2002, Nelson was honored with a Distinguished Faculty Award during Steinhardt’s Department of Physical Therapy’s 75th Anniversary Diamond Jubilee. The school’s state-of-of-the-art Arthur J. Nelson Jr. Human Performance Laboratory, was named in his honor.

Former colleagues report that students crowded into Nelson’s packed classes to witness his legendary skill: he could to draw the nervous system on a chalk board using both hands simultaneously.

He had a life-long love of painting and woodcarving.

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A memorial service for Arthur J. Nelson will be held on Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 10 AM at:

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Main Street and Osborn Avenue, Manasquan, NJ 08736. (Directions.)

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the NYU Physical Therapy Support Fund (noted for the Arthur J. Nelson Award and Lab in the memo section), New York University, Department of Physical Therapy, 380 2nd Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10010.

(Photo: Arthur J. Nelson, Jr., with (left to right) Steinhardt Physical Therapy Professor Marilyn Moffat and alumna Betty Latham, 2007.)