Michael F. Hochella Jr. named Virginia's 2005 Outstanding Scientist
February 11, 2005
Virginia Tech professor Michael F. Hochella Jr.'s innovative work has led to his being named Virginia's Outstanding Scientist 2005 by Gov. Mark R. Warner and Science Museum of Virginia Director Walter R.T. Witschey.
Hochella and other recipients of this year's Scientist and Industrialist awards are being presented to the Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday, Feb. 16. The awards will be presented at a banquet at the Science Museum of Virginia on Thursday, April 7.
Hochella studies the surfaces of Earth materials. Through his work, it is now clear that interactions of Earth materials with living things, water and air control many of Earth's most important processes. These include soil formation and movement of toxic substances, in addition to water pollution and purification. Hochella is the first person to recognize important differences in the behavior of Earth materials at the atomic scale. He calls this developing field of study nanogeoscience. One nanometer is about 10 times the diameter of a single atom. As a Humbolt Fellow, Hochella discovered heavy metals in soil, streams and rivers as far away as 300 miles from an old copper mine in Montana. Scientists worldwide are following Hochella's lead in studying the role small atomic scale particles play, for example, in triggering asthma attacks, allergic reactions and in transporting infectious diseases and fungus worldwide. Hochella is responsible for bringing $7 million in research to Virginia.
Hochella's teaching interests are broad — from university introductory to advanced graduate level courses. He also has introduced nanoscience and nanotechnology into high schools. The program has been successful in a pilot test. Supporters say it may become a model curriculum for high school students nationwide.
Hochella came to Virginia Tech in 1992. He was named a professor in 1996. Before coming to Virginia Tech, Hochella worked at Corning Glass Inc. and Stanford University. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in geosciences from Virginia Tech. His Ph.D. is from Stanford University.