In 1978, Virginia Tech's Polymer Materials and Interfaces Laboratory was established at Virginia Tech, conceived by two long-term colleagues, Garth Wilkes, now a professor emeritus of chemical engineering, and James McGrath, a professor of chemistry.

In addition to their two departments, other faculty from engineering science and mechanics, materials science and engineering, mechanical engineering, and wood science strongly contributed to establishing the foundation of the interdisciplinary program.

In the three-plus decades that brought millions of graduate research dollars, the education of thousands of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as the provision of several-hundred polymer short courses to industrialists and academicians, the laboratory built up a strong, solid reputation and network throughout the world of polymeric materials.

Hence, the faculty members were pleased to witness the first polymer alumni reunion and symposium this summer at The Inn at Virginia Tech. More than 60 alumni and members of their families returned to Blacksburg to celebrate the special bonds that exist within this worldwide community. Highlights of the reunion were a special one-day symposium held at the Holtzman Alumni Center auditorium featuring talks by eight former students, the call for the creation of three endowed professorships, and a banquet showcasing the faculty band “ Poly and the Mers” that brought back a lot of memories for the attendees.

Polymer science and engineering has and continues to be a very well recognized and important educational and research strength of Virginia Tech. Since the pioneering efforts by McGrath and Wilkes, along with Tom Ward and Jim Wightman, also professors of chemistry, over 600 Ph.D. and master’s students have graduated from the polymer programs.

These graduates populate the research laboratories and other departments of major corporations around the world and are some are leading professors in major universities both in the United States and internationally.

The reunion event was organized by an alumni committee consisting of Dean Webster, a professor at North Dakota State University; Tony Brennan, a professor at the University of Florida; Paul Armistead of the Office of Naval Research; Ann Norris of Dow Corning; and Bob Allen of IBM-Almaden.

As a show of their loyalty and pride in the Virginia Tech polymer program, now part of the encompassing Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute, this active group of alumni has initiated a fundraising campaign to raise support for three endowed professorships in macromolecular science and engineering. Brennan is spearheading the fundraising initiative with the assistance of the Virginia Tech Development office. The Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute is assisting their efforts.

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