The Macromolecules Innovation Institute (MII) has established the Garth L. Wilkes Interdisciplinary Scholar Awards to honor the late Garth L. Wilkes, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering and one of the top polymer researchers of his time.
Wilkes played a leadership role in the formation of the Polymeric Materials and Interfaces Laboratory (PMIL), a predecessor to MII. He also helped develop MII's Macromolecular Science and Engineering (MACR) graduate degree, a university model for interdisciplinary education.
"He left our university with a paradigm for the modern professor and the goals for the modern day innovator," said MII director Tim Long, who is also professor of chemistry in the College of Science. "He was committed to the fundamentals of polymer science and engineering catalyzing discovery and societal impact."
Through these awards, MII will recognize an affiliated faculty member and graduate student who represent the core principles of Wilkes' legacy: interdisciplinary excellence in research, teaching, and engagement.
MII will provide the recipients unrestricted funding to support travel to a leading international conference with special attention to interdisciplinary forums. The awardees can also use the funds to supplement research activities.
The inaugural recipients are Professor Robert Moore (chemistry) and Ph.D. student Jake Fallon (chemical engineering), who recently received their awards at the MII technical conference and review.
"Bob exemplifies all the criteria for excellence that Professor Wilkes would support," Long said. "And Jake represents a passionate student with a love for the interface of structure and properties."
Moore said he first met Wilkes at a conference in the late '80s and immediately recognized Wilkes' eminence in polymer research.
"His remarkable presence was also my first realization that Virginia Tech was a powerhouse in polymers," Moore said. "I vividly remember one day sitting in the lab, while reading one of his papers on telechelic ionomers, and thinking to myself that Virginia Tech would be an awesome place to work."
When Moore joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 2007, the two became MII colleagues for a decade until Wilkes' passing in 2016.
"For many years, Garth was my role model, and from now on he will always be my compass – guiding me toward the deep fundamental understanding of polymer science and engineering," Moore said. "His wealth of knowledge, garnered through fundamental research endeavors and countless industrial interactions, is his legacy that we can only hope to preserve. So, I am immensely proud to bear the recognition as a 'mini-Garth,' and I look forward to many more years of the challenge he has set before us."
Fallon, whose advisor is Assistant Professor Michael Bortner, said Wilkes' mentorship played a large role in Fallon's decision to pursue higher education at Virginia Tech.
"Throughout the entire application process and my initial days of attending Virginia Tech, Dr. Wilkes continued to meet with me and discuss everything from my courses to the best fly fishing spots in the area," Fallon said. "His unwavering care for students and his guidance is something I will never forget and strive to emulate in my life."