Robert J. Bodnar, University Distinguished Professor of Geochemistry, and Shuhai Xiao, a renowned paleobiologist and geobiologist, were elected Tuesday as members of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bodnar and Xiao are among 120 new members and 23 international associates recognized for their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Bodnar and Xiao join 15 other active Virginia Tech faculty who have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, or both. Bodnar and Xiao are both faculty with the Department of Geosciences, part of the Virginia Tech College of Science.

“The National Academy of Sciences’ election of two Virginia Tech scientists reflects the university’s ongoing progress toward our aspiration to become a top-100 global research university,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “Congratulations to Shuhai and Bob for this well-deserved recognition. Their work exemplifies the quality of Virginia Tech’s faculty and the global impact of our research.”

A older wearing wearing a winter vest coat stands near some trees.
Robert J. Bodnar. Photo by Steven Mackay for Virginia Tech.

Bodnar has been a geosciences faculty member since his arrival at Virginia Tech in 1985. He was named Clifton C. Garvin Professor of Geochemistry in 1997 and University Distinguished Professor in 1999.

Bodnar’s work has used fluid chemistry to help decipher clues about the earth’s processes by researching tiny amounts of fluids trapped in rocks. He has created new techniques for studying the trapped fluids and melts in everything from granites to meteorites.

Bodnar shared the credit for his achievement with Virginia Tech, college, and departmental leadership for giving him the flexibility to pursue initiatives that were outside what most would consider his normal course of work.

“This academic freedom has had an enormous impact on my professional growth and development,” Bodnar said. “I have been fortunate to work with an outstanding cadre of colleagues during my time at Virginia Tech, people who gave so much of themselves when I was a young assistant professor still trying to figure out how academia worked.”

Bodnar said graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and collaborators were critical to his day-to-day research: “This honor is as much theirs as it is mine, because most of the research accomplishments that are the basis of this recognition are the result of their collective efforts.”

A man with salt and pepper hair, glasses, and a checkered shirt poses near a Hokie Stone building.
Shuhai Xiao. Photo by Hunter Q. Gresham for Virginia Tech.

Xiao, the Patricia A. Caldwell Faculty Fellow in the College of Science, received the National Academy of Sciences Award in the Evolution of Earth and Life-Mary Clark Thompson Medal in 2021.

Xiao’s research intersects geology, paleontology, and geochemistry. His discoveries have allowed scientists to see more clearly how life on the planet transformed from largely microbial into organisms that developed the ability to walk on their own. In 2020, he discovered 1 billion-year-old fossils that evidenced the oldest green seaweeds ever found.

“I deeply appreciate the continuing support from my academic home at Virginia Tech, including the Caldwell faculty fellowship,” Xiao said. “I came to Virginia Tech in 2003 because of its inspiring faculty, and I feel extremely humbled to join Bob Bodnar and Trish Dove as the third academy member in the Department of Geosciences.”

Dove, University Distinguished Professor and the C.P. Miles Professor of Science, is one of today’s pre-eminent geochemists and was elected to the academy in 2012.

Xiao continued: “My research to understand the geological past of the Earth-life system is inspired by its uncertain future. My enthusiasm for teaching is inspired by the need for a new generation of a globally engaged scientific workforce.”

A member of the Global Change Center, part of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, Xiao also said he appreciated the College of Science’s dynamic academic environment that bolstered the paleobiology and geobiology program in the Department of Geosciences.

Kevin Pitts, the dean of the College of Science who joined Virginia Tech a year ago, said the work of faculty such as Xiao, Bodnar, and many others initially drew his attention to the university.

“This is an incredible moment for Virginia Tech and scientific discovery itself,” Pitts said. “I could not be prouder of Bob and Shuhai. Their work to uncover Earth’s hidden past creates a sturdy foundation upon which we can build to solve entrenched problems and help shape a promising, sustainable future.”

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