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125th Anniversary Speaker
Wightman's topic is science

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 09 - October 23, 1997

James P. Wightman has been known to dress like Ben Franklin and pour oil on the Virginia Tech Duck Pond to make a point.
That's because Benjamin Franklin, in the late 1700s, was the first person to make semi-quantitative measurements on the spreading of oil films on water surfaces. Wightman, an alumni distinguished professor of chemistry and Virginia's 1994 scientist of the year, will discuss Franklin's observations and present slides of the periodic re-enactment at Virginia Tech of this historic experiment Tuesday, Nov. 4, at 7:30 p.m. in Squires Colonial Hall. The talk is part of the 125th Anniversary Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series.
After Franklin, experimental work on oil films lay dormant until the pioneering work of Agnes Pockels in Germany in the late 1800s. The experimental results of this young woman, who did not have a university degree, were supported by Lord Rayleigh and subsequently published in Nature.
Nobel laureate Irving Langmuir and his associate, Katharine Blodgett, continued work in the study of oil films. Wightman will explain their work and recent results for polymers and medicinal drugs and will conclude his talk with an unusual fire extinguisher based on principles discussed.
Wightman is a Patrick fellow, award-winning teacher, and past president of the National Adhesion Society. He has advanced the understanding of surface chemistry, improved materials, and developed better predictions on the length of time things will remain stuck together under various conditions. He holds the NASA Public Service Award, the Adhesives Age Award and the Adhesive and Sealant Council Award.
For more information, call 1-5854 or wightman@vt.edu.