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McGrath named state outstanding scientist

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 23 - March 13, 1997

James E. McGrath, university distinguished professor of chemistry, was one of six Virginians named recipients of the state's top scientist and industrialist awards.

McGrath was one of two named Virginia's Outstanding Scientists. He is recognized world-wide as one of the premier scientists in polymer science and engineering. He is director of the National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center for High Performance Polymeric Adhesives and Composites, which was established at Virginia Tech in 1989. McGrath's work and leadership have provided a strong research base in the development of materials for electronics and aerospace. He is also credited with moving polymer composites into transportation and infrastructure uses.

McGrath's research has primarily focused on developing safe, environmentally friendly processes and fire-resistant engineering thermoplastics and thermosets. Potential applications of these will be in areas such as aircraft, naval vessels, subways, and oil platforms. James Wightman, who was named Outstanding Scientist in 1994, calls McGrath "one of the top five synthetic polymer chemists in the world."

McGrath was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1994. He is one of the few polymer scientists to receive this honor. He has been an officer of the American Chemical Society Division of Polymer Chemistry. He was secretary of the Pacific Polymer Federation and is currently its U. S. Representative from the American Chemical Society. In June, McGrath will be inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame by the Society of Plastics Engineers.

McGrath received his B.S. in chemistry at St. Bernadine of Siena College, Loudonville, N.Y., in 1956. He worked in cellulose fiber and film research at ITT Rayonier, then conducted research on synthetic rubbers for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. while earning a master's in chemistry and a doctorate in polymer science from the University of Akron. He joined Union Carbide Corp. and became a research scientist/group leader in 1974. Much of his work concerned block copolymer synthesis and characterization.

He is co-author of Block Copolymers: Overview and Critical Survey (1977), which remains a major resource in this field.

McGrath joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1975, was promoted to full professor in 1979 and was awarded the Ethyl Chair in 1986. The NSF center, with McGrath as its director, was established in 1989. In 1993, he was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award by the Society of Plastic Engineers' Thermoplastics and Foam Division and the University's Alumni Award for Research Excellence.

McGrath was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1994. He serves on numerous advisory boards in industry and government, including the National Materials Advisory Board of the National Research Council. He is co-author of more than 450 scientific publications and has directed the Ph.D. and master's degrees of more than 80 students. In 1996, he was named a university distinguished professor, the university's highest honor.

McGrath also received the Herman Mark Award in Polymer Chemistry in November 1996. The award, sponsored by the Dow Chemical Company Foundation and presented by the American Chemical Society Division of Polymer Chemistry, recognizes outstanding research and leadership in polymer science.

The awards are made each year by the Science Museum of Virginia and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The winners were presented to the General Assembly at the State Capitol in February. An awards banquet will be held March 24 at the Science Museum.