College of Science alumni have made great impacts on the world. They have saved lives through medicine and technology, traveled in space, invented plastics, and more. One won a Nobel Prize. Here are a few...
Wilson B. Bell
(biology B.S. 1934; M.S. 1935; Ph.D. 1952)
Co-developed a new vaccine to protect calves against bovine leptospirosis, which had cost livestock raisers throughout the country thousands of dollars daily.
Mary Ella Card Brumfield
(biology B.S. 1923; M.S. 1925)
Was the first female student to graduate from Virginia Tech. She enrolled in 1921 with four other women as the school’s first coeds and graduated in two years because she was a transfer student. She then earned a second degree, a master’s, from the university.
Joseph M. DeSimone
(chemistry Ph.D. 1990)
Is the co-founder of several companies, including Carbon, where he currently serves as executive chairman and former CEO. He is one of only 25 individuals elected to all three branches of the U.S. National Academies (Sciences, Medicine, Engineering). In 2016, DeSimone was recognized by President Barack Obama with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest U.S. honor for achievement and leadership in advancing technological progress.
William E. Dodd
(general science M.S. 1898)
Served as U.S. ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937. He disapproved of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and resigned his post. His article “Germany Shocked Me” appeared in a 1938 issue of
Benjamin A. Rubin
(biology M.S. 1938)
Is widely celebrated for his invention of the bifurcated vaccination needle used to deliver tiny amounts of smallpox vaccine in one dosage. He created the needle from a sewing machine needle and is widely credited with helping to eradicate smallpox. Previously, the vaccine was both hard to find and, in less developed parts of the world, in short supply. The needle could also be used by laypeople with little training.
In a 1993 Virginia Tech Magazine story, Donald A. Henderson, then director of the World Health Organization’s Global Smallpox Eradication Program, is quoted as saying, “If ever there was an invention which could be said to have truly benefited mankind . . . it was Ben Rubin's eloquently simple bifurcated needle.”
Additional honors for Rubin include receiving the John Scott Award from the Philadelphia Board of City Trusts in 1981, being named Inventor of Year in 1985, and named to the Inventors Hall of Fame in 1992. He died 2010.
Colleen M. Kraft
(chemistry B.A. 1981)
Was elected president of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2016. In 2018, she made headlines for taking a hard stance against the federal practice of migrant children being separated from their families in U.S.-Mexico border detention facilities.
Paul C. Laughton
(physics B.S. 1967)
Designed the file manager, a BASIC interface, and tools for Apple II DOS (disc operating system, the first disc drive) version 3. The computer was a game-changer, with color, graphics, sound, expansion slots, game paddles, and a built-in BASIC programming language. He would later author Atari Basic.
Robert C. Richardson
(physics B.S. 1958, M.S. 1960)
Best known for his Nobel Prize in physics in 1996 with David Lee and Douglas Osheroff, for discovering how helium-3 can transform itself into a liquid that flows without friction at temperatures near absolute zero.
He joined the faculty at Cornell University as a professor of physics in 1968 and later became Cornell’s first vice provost for research. He was also the founding director of the Kavli Institute for Nanoscale Science and director of the Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics at Cornell. He died in 2013.
William W. Lewis
(physics B.S. 1963)
Virginia Tech’s first Rhodes Scholar. Now retired, he was a partner at management consulting firm McKinsey and Company. He held policy-making positions in the U.S. Department of Defense and was acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Camille T. Schrier
(systems biology, chemistry, both B.S. 2018)
Selected as Miss America 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her tenure was extended through 2021, making her the only woman to hold the title for more than one year. Schrier was also the first-ever contestant to showcase a chemistry demonstration in the talent show portion.
William A. Murrill
(agriculture, mechanics, and science, all B.S. 1886)
Known as “Mr. Mushroom,” was a world-renowned botanist and author. His book on fungi varieties was used as a reference in nearly every country in the world. He collected over 75,000 plant specimens, 1,700 of them new to science. He received a gold medal from the Holland Society of New York in 1923 for distinguished service in the science of mycology.
James M. Smith Jr.
(chemistry M.S. 1936)
And his colleagues developed methotrexate, an immunosuppressive drug used during chemotherapy. He received at least 22 patents for his inventions and co-inventions.
Roger K. Crouch
(physics M.S. 1968; Ph.D. 1971)
Served as a payload specialist aboard the STS-83 Columbia on April 4, 1997, and then three months later on the STS-94 Columbia. He logged more than 471 hours in space and conducted experiments in a wide range of physical sciences while in orbit. (On one mission, he carried a Virginia Tech banner into space.)
Crouch received numerous awards from NASA, including two Space Flight Medals, a NASA Exceptional Performance Award, and a NASA Special Achievement Award. Crouch’s research-based career ranged from techniques and types of semiconductor crystal growth to electrical and optical material properties. His work led to the publication of more than 40 technical papers and 50 technical conference reports.
In addition to flying in space, Crouch was lead scientist for the NASA Microgravity Space and Applications Division from 1985 to 1996; conducted crew training, flight and post-flight activities from 1996 until 1998; senior scientist for the Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences at NASA-HQ from 1998 to 2000; and was senior scientist for the International Space Station from 2000 until 2004.
William H. Starnes Jr.
(chemistry B.S. 1955)
Made many fundamental discoveries that led to the development of of poly(vinyl chloride) or PVC, one of today's most ubiquitous building materials. He was honored with the 2019 Chemical Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Chemists.
Robert M. Thomas
(chemistry B.S. 1929)
Was the co-inventor of butyl rubber, a synthetic widely used during World War II. He was awarded the Charles Goodyear Medal by the American Chemical Society's Division of Rubber Chemists for his co-invention. Thomas is credited with 73 patents.
Charles O. Handley Jr.
(biology B.S. 1944)
Was a renowned scientist, author, and teacher who worked for the Smithsonian for 53 years. As curator of mammals at the National Museum of Natural History, he was regarded as an expert on Latin American bats. In recognition of his work, several animal species were named for him, among them a hummingbird, a long-tongued bat, and a pygmy mouse.
Editor’s note: A special thank you to Clara Cox for compiling information on many of these names for an earlier publication under the College of Arts and Sciences.