Georgia Tech chemists honor Starnes as outstanding alumnus

  • Honored alumnus
    Honored alumnus
    Charlie Liotta (right), chair of the Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, greets William and Sofia Starnes. The school honored William Starnes, an emeritus professor of chemistry at William & Mary, as the inaugural recipient of its Outstanding Alumni Award. His wife, Sofia, is the current poet laureate of Virginia.
    Photo courtesy of William Starnes

The School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech has recently honored William & Mary Emeritus Professor William Starnes with its inaugural Outstanding Alumnus Award.

The award is designed to honor alumni that have made significant contributions to their field. Starnes was honored at a Distinguished Alumnus Colloquium on Outstanding Alumnus Day, an event at Georgia Tech aiming to honor the accomplishments of the honoree.

Starnes attended graduate school at Georgia Tech, where he studied physical organic chemistry, earning his Ph.D. in 1960. After graduating, Starnes accepted a research position at Humble Oil and Refining Company, a branch of what is now Exxon Mobil. Soon after, he accepted a position at Bell Labs, where he started researching the structure and stability of poly(vinyl chloride), also known as PVC.  His research earned Starnes many awards and praise in his field.

In 1985, Starnes decided to join the academic world and became a professor, first joining Polytechnic University as head of its Department of Chemistry and Life Sciences and then coming to William & Mary as the first Floyd Dewey Gottwald, Sr., Professor of Chemistry at the College. Starnes became an emeritus professor in 2006, continuing his research with graduate and undergraduate students.

At William & Mary, he was able to finish research that he began in grad school, describing the correct structures of the “spiroaminobarbituric acids” he had investigated at Georgia Tech over 40 years earlier.

This fall’s colloquium featured a presentation by Jian-Yang Cho of Dow Chemical. The presentation, “Heat Stabilization of Poly(Vinyl Chloride),” emphasized Starnes’ contributions to the understanding of the chemistry of this popular plastic, including how current research at the Dow Chemical Company is relying on Starnes’ contributions to polymer chemistry and engineering.

Today, Starnes continues his research in chemistry and polymer science and is involved in philanthropic endeavors with his wife, Sofia, the current poet laureate of Virginia.