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Bodnar named C. C. Garvin professor of geochemistry

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 14 - December 4, 1997

Robert J. Bodnar, who has had his work come to him from underground and from outer space, recently was named the C. C. Garvin professor of geochemistry at Virginia Tech.
Bodnar studies the role that fluids play in the evolution of the Earth and other planets through research into fluid inclusions, or droplets of water trapped inside rocks as they form.
Recently, he has been studying a sample of a meteorite from Mars to determine if it contains water, whose presence could indicate the plausibility of life on that planet.
Although Bodnar is not an expert on Mars, NASA asked his help in studying the meteorite because of his expertise in fluid-inclusion research.
Bodnar first studied the Zagami meteorite, which fell in Nigeria in 1962, but is now looking at the Allan Hills meteorite found in the Antarctic in 1984--the one in the news lately that is thought to contain some type of microscopic fossils. With Harry Y. McSween of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, one of the early pioneers working on Martian meteorites who was involved in the recent Mars-landing project, Bodnar is looking for evidence of water that they might be able to relate to life on Mars.
Bodnar's study of fluid inclusion spans a wide range of topics. Bodnar has done a great deal of research related to active volcanoes, looking at the fluids or gases in them in an attempt to understand how metals are distributed and transported in those fluids. "I think modern volcanoes are good analogues for many of the ore deposits we work on," he said. "I've been studying the active volcanoes trying to learn how copper and gold deposits form."
Examining ore deposits from all over the world, Bodnar is able to understand how valuable minerals are formed. He also has a student looking at petroleum inclusions from the North Sea off the Coast of Scotland in an attempt to understand how oil moves through rocks and how it changes composition as it migrates.
Another area of his research has to do with supercritical water oxidation, a new technique for getting rid of hazardous chemical wastes generated by the military and industry. "Mixing some of the wastes, DDT, TNT, etc., with water at high temperatures and pressures breaks the very harmful chemicals down into very inert and benign gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen," Bodnar said.
Bodnar's research has been supported by several grants totalling $3.2 million, including those from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy, the American Chemical Society, and private industry. His research has produced numerous peer-reviewed papers and published abstracts.
Bodnar was named the Garvin professor effective this fall. The Clifton C. Garvin Professorship was established through the gift of Clifton C. Garvin, an alumnus of Virginia Tech and chairman and chief executive officer of the Exxon Corporation. Between the years of 1988 and 1994, the professorship rotated to different departments in the college and was used to bring in distinguished visitors for a period of up to one year. This year, Dean Robert C. Bates, concurring with the College of Arts and Sciences Honorifics Committee, nominated a current faculty member as the Garvin professor for a period of three years.
"We are pleased to offer the professorship to one of our own outstanding scientists whose research has earned him numerous previous honors," Bates said.
Bodnar came to Virginia Tech in 1985 after having been a research geochemist for Chevron Oil Field Research Co. and a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He was promoted to the rank of professor of geological sciences in 1992. His teaching, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, receives superior ratings from students. He has supervised 16 students through completion of graduate degrees and is currently advising six additional graduate students.
In 1986, Bodnar earned the Society of Economic Geologists' Lindgren Award and was named a fellow of that society. In 1987, he won the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award, and in 1990 he was named a fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America. In 1991, he received the Virginia Tech Alumni Award for Research Excellence. He has served as the Society of Economic Geologists' Thayer Lindsley Lecturer and was named a Centennial fellow of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State University in 1996. Bodnar has served as associate editor of two professional journals and is a member of several committees, such as the NSF Geochemistry and Petrology Panel.
With some of the funding that accompanies the Garvin Professorship, Bodnar has initiated an undergraduate research seminar on porphyry copper deposits. He has nine geological-sciences undergraduates doing independent research on an ore deposit at approximately the master's level. Bodnar and his students expect to publish results from this project in an international, peer-reviewed journal.