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Starnes named to Southwest Virginia Walk of Fame

  • Sole scientist
    Sole scientist  Bill Starnes is the only scientist among the inaugural class of the Southwest Virginia Walk of Fame.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Chemist William Starnes is a member of the inaugural class of the Southwest Virginia Walk of Fame, a group that includes other accomplished natives of the region, such as the Stanley Brothers, Daniel Boone and actor George C. Scott.

Starnes, a native of Lee County, is the Floyd Dewey Gottwald, Sr., Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at William and Mary. Though he holds emeritus rank, Starnes still conducts research in his lab in the Integrated Science Center. He is one of the world's leading experts in the chemistry of vinyl plastics, particularly PVC—poly(vinyl chloride), the world's second most widely used plastic material.

At William and Mary, Starnes perfected, patented and licensed an alternative PVC stabilization technology based on organic compounds known as ester thiols. His discovery provides a more environmentally friendly alternative to the toxic heavy-metal additives traditionally used in the manufacturing of PVC articles. Tests are ongoing to determine which of the tens of thousands of PVC products will be most appropriate for the new stabilizer/plasticizer technology.

"We are happy to have Dr. Starnes as the sole scientist in our inaugural class," said Sharon Ewing, director of the Southwest Virginia Museum in Big Stone Gap. The walk of fame was inspired by the Virginia Legends Walk in Virginia Beach, she said.

The Southwest Virginia Walk of Fame is based at the museum, which will hold a public induction ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, part of the museum's 60th anniversary celebration. Ewing said many of the honorees will be represented, either in person (as in Starnes' case) or by a descendant or other representative. Each honoree will be designated with a tile inscribed with his or her name and area of contribution. The tiles are permanently set into the sidewalks of the Southwest Virginia Museum grounds.

Starnes joined the William and Mary faculty in 1989, working in the departments of chemistry and applied science. Before joining the College, he worked at Polytechnic University, Brooklyn and at Bell Labs. With nearly 500 publications, patents and oral presentations to his credit, Starnes was listed by the Plastics Pioneers Association in 2001 as one of fewer than a thousand individuals worldwide who have had the greatest impact on the history of plastics.