A colorful array of crayon drawings and the fledgling efforts of a child?s first writings greeted me as I entered the sunny, blue carpeted office of Michael Hochella: Virginia?s Outstanding Scientist of 2005 and professor of geochemistry and mineralogy at Virginia Tech. The drawings, Hochella explained, were somewhat dated contributions from his two children, who are now 8 and 12 years old. He?s a very laid-back and modest individual who can?t seem to stop smiling. And he certainly has reason to. On the leading edge of a science that Hochella refers to as nanogeoscience, Hochella is studying the workings of the earth on one of its smallest levels, the nanoparticle. Hochella and his research group are studying how nanoparticles affect the transfer of infectious diseases, the movement of toxic substances and how nanoparticles behave compared to the level we are capable of seeing with the naked eye.
Q: How does it feel to be named Virginia?s Outstanding Scientist?
A: Well I knew I was being nominated, but I never dreamed of actually being selected. And so when (they) tried to call me, I wasn?t in, so they sent me an email. When I came back to my office I checked my email and I was siting at my computer reading this message going ?Am I dreaming??. I?d won awards before from scientific society medals, that sort of thing, but, this was different because those awards are in my particular field and this award was obviously all fields of science. I admire so greatly physicists, chemicists and biologists that I?ve learned so much from. Our scientists don?t win Nobel prizes because there is no such category. So we?re not used to, when all scientists are competing with one another, we?re not used to getting awards. So I was reading this email and I just went numb, and then I had to read it again to make sure I wasn?t dreaming.
Q: What role has Tech played in getting you to where you are today?
A: I was an undergraduate here and I got my masters degree here. And then I went to Stanford to get my Ph.D. and I ended up at Stanford as a research professor for a number of years and I thought I would stay there for the rest of my career because Stanford is Stanford, internationally super famous and I was doing great there. So why would I want to come back to Tech? There were two reasons, one it was best for our children, because we felt this was a better place to buy a home and raise a family then the Bay area. The second reason is that this geoscience department is also internationally recognized for its excellance. Virginia Tech has given me a home that I consider as good as Stanford. And it?s not just this outstanding department, it?s our college and our dean, Lay Nam Chang as the founding dean of our College of Science, and then you just go right up the line through the administration and you see superstars the whole way. These people are amazing and I love working for them. They provide us with healthy encouragement, funding, very pleasant work environment and a desire to want to do well for the university and the state. It?s been a wonderful gift.
Q: What role have your students played?