Peter H. Sellers, 84, of Philadelphia, one of the early pioneers of DNA research, died Saturday, Nov. 15, of cancer at home.
Dr. Sellers was the ninth generation of Philadelphia's first family of scientists and engineers, according to D. Vitiello, writing in Engineering Philadelphia, published by Cornell University Press in 2014.
Beginning in 1966, Dr. Sellers spent 48 years as a senior research scientist at Rockefeller University. The university called him "a brilliant and pioneering mathematician whose [work] contributed significantly to the first computer search/matching algorithm for DNA."
"He conducted research at the intersection of mathematics and biology," the university wrote in a death notice in the New York Times.
The techniques Dr. Sellers developed in the 1970s and '80s are used worldwide for recognizing patterns in DNA sequences and computing evolutionary distances through the analysis of genetic material. His mathematical theory of algorithms also led to important innovations in the study of chemical reactions.
The Sellers family of engineers, scientists, and inventors has been active in Philadelphia and Delaware Counties for more than 300 years.
Dr. Sellers remained in Philadelphia even as he pursued his career as a scientist in New York, writing equations on the train during his two-hour commute. He biked to 30th Street Station from his rowhouse in Germantown.
In addition to his work in mathematics and science, Dr. Sellers had many other interests. "Peter was a true Renaissance man, with a broad range of scientific and cultural interests and the rare ability to draw cogent connections across disciplines," Rockefeller University wrote in its Times notice.
Dr. Sellers loved ships and the sea; he built a 38-foot wooden sloop in the barn of his family farm near Doylestown and launched it on the 25th anniversary of his wedding to Lucy Bell.
"It was called the Lucy Bell," said his son Mortimer Sellers.
The couple spent a month each summer for 30 years sailing off the Maine coast, visiting the islands and harbors of Penobscot Bay.
On Mount Desert Island, where he and his wife spent summers, the two worked to protect the environment and the natural beauty of the Maine coastline.
Dr. Sellers sought to perpetuate the history of science and technology by curating and expanding the Merrill W. Chase Historic Scientific Instrument Collection at Rockefeller University, and by serving as a trustee of the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.
He also was active with the Nicholas Newlin Foundation, whose mission is to preserve the Newlin Grist Mill and surrounding land in Glen Mills.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in the city and Radnor, Dr. Sellers graduated from St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H.
He earned a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965 and completed post-doctoral work at the Johnson Foundation for Medical Research.
While working on his doctoral dissertation, Dr. Sellers volunteered with his wife to spend two years teaching in East Africa, where he was head of the mathematics department at the Kangaru School in Embu, Kenya. The couple's daughter Wanja was born in Nairobi.
As a father, he was kind and gentle. "It's what you want in a dad," his son said.
In recognition of his contributions to the sciences, Rockefeller University has established a new lectureship in mathematics.
In addition to his wife, son, and daughter, Dr. Sellers is survived by two other daughters, Therese and Lucy Bell; eight grandchildren; and two sisters. A brother died earlier.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, at St. David's Episcopal Church, 763 S. Valley Forge Rd., Wayne. Burial is private.
Donations may be made to the Merrill W. Chase Historic Scientific Instrument Collection at Rockefeller University by writing a check payable to Rockefeller University, noting on the memo line that the contribution is for the Merrill W. Chase Scientific Instrument Collection.
Contributions also may be mailed to Rockefeller University, 1230 York Ave., Box 164, New York, N.Y. 10065, attention Mr. Evan Greene. Gifts may be made online at www.rockefeller.edu/giving/donateDonations also may be made to the College of the Atlantic, 105 Eden St., Bar Harbor, Maine. 04609.