Troublemaker Scientist. Heroic Professor. Accidental Ethicist.

Those are just a few of the national media titles given to Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards over the past quarter-century as he exposed problems with potable water in Washington, D.C.; Flint, Michigan; and other areas of the country. Most recently, Edwards was recognized by the university with a new title: University Distinguished Professor.

The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors honored Edwards with the rank at its April 2017 meeting.

“Dr. Edwards’ career has been exemplary of Virginia Tech’s multifaceted approach to solving the problems of our time: a merging of science, public advocacy, and service, and reflected in his recent work identifying and addressing water-quality issues in Flint, Michigan," said Thanassis Rikakis, Virginia Tech executive vice president and provost. "Dr. Edwards has been transformative in his field in terms of research and scholarship and had a notable impact on policy and consumer water issues."

Edwards, the Charles Lunsford Professor with the Virginia Tech Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering, is an established expert on water treatment and corrosion who most recently gained international praise for his ongoing work in Flint.

After being contacted directly by a concerned mother of two who lived in Flint, Edwards and a team of more than 40 people helped residents conduct an unprecedented survey of water contamination in residents’ homes, which revealed high levels of lead and bacteria, such as Legionella, in the water supply, contradicting official reports that the murky water was safe. Edwards and his team also developed a model of investigative science and advocacy that included Freedom of Information Act requests to demonstrate and publicize government agency misconduct.

Edward’s role in uncovering the crisis in Flint has been widely reported by media from around the world, including The New York Times, Smithsonian magazine, Time, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, Nature, and Scientific American.

Before Flint, Edwards spent more than a dozen years exposing problems related to pinhole leaks in copper pipes, lead in drinking water, and agency scientific misconduct during the Washington, D.C., lead crisis in 2000-2004 and its aftermath.

“Marc has proven several times over his dedication to science for the public good,” said G. Don Taylor, Charles O. Gordon Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering and interim dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. “More than that, he is empowering his students to do the same, and for that, future generations of scientists will benefit.”

Edwards was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2008. Among his numerous other accolades are the 2010 Praxis Award in Professional Ethics from Villanova University, a 2013 IEEE Barus Award for defending the public interest at great personal risk, a 2016 Smithsonian Institution Innovation Award for Social Progress, and the President’s Medal from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

In 2016, he was named among the most influential people in the world by Fortune, Time, and Politico, and was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers.

Edwards earned his bachelor’s degree in biophysics from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1986 and master’s and doctoral degrees in environmental engineering at the University of Washington in 1988 and 1991, respectively. He joined Virginia Tech in 1997.

Written by Erica Corder

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