Four prominent Texas A&M University former students from the College of Science have earned selection by the college for its highest alumni honor, induction into its Academy of Distinguished Former Students.

Dr. Wen-Feng Liaw, class of 1989, of Hsinchu, Taiwan; Dr. Mikhail Lukin, class of 1998, of Cambridge, Mass.; Mr. Thomas W. Powell, class of 1962, of Galveston, Texas; and Dr. Keith B. Ward Jr., class of 1965, of Alexandria, Va., will be recognized Thursday (Mar. 21) for their achievements and contributions to their professions, community and causes as part of the college's Spring Recognition and Awards Dinner, to be held at Pebble Creek Country Club in College Station. The college also will recognize its current scholarship recipients along with all of the donors who have established endowed gifts within the college's five departments during the past year.

The Academy was established in 1996 to recognize Aggies who have brought honor to their alma mater and professions through outstanding leadership in mathematics, statistics, the sciences and medicine. Liaw, Lukin, Powell and Ward join a prestigious list of 41 previous honorees distinguished for their merit and innovative achievements.

This year's class marks the second-largest in history, topped only by the 2004 group, which featured a record five inductees.

"Once again our awardees this year show the variety and strength of our former students," said Dr. H. Joseph Newton. "We are pleased to acknowledge stellar examples of both the College of Science's and Texas A&M University's strong tradition of distinction in pioneering scientific research, leadership and knowledge generation to benefit our professions and the world."

Liaw received his doctorate in chemistry from Texas A&M in 1989 under the research mentorship of Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Dr. Marcetta Y. Darensbourg. A full professor since 1993, he is one of the leading inorganic chemists in his native Taiwan and an influential leader in the Taiwan academic community credited with developing the country's current culture of scientific research and proliferating a thriving Aggie community there in the process.

Since 2002, Liaw has served as a professor of chemistry at National Tsing Hua University. He was appointed as a distinguished professor of chemistry in 2007 and as chairman of the Department of Chemistry last fall. For the past three years, Liaw also has been Director General of the Department of Natural Sciences, National Science Council of the Republic of China (Taiwan), the organization charged with formulating science policy in Taiwan and overseeing research funding across the natural sciences.

As a chemist, Liaw is a pioneer in the synthesis of iron-sulfur compounds that serve as mimetics and the overall study of nitrogen oxide when bound to iron. He has authored more than 80 manuscripts in rigorously peer-reviewed, high-impact journals and mentored more than 20 Ph.D. and 50 master's of science students as independent scientists.

"As a graduate student here at Texas A&M, Professor Liaw was extremely hard working, extremely driven to do good science, and to develop as an independent researcher," said Darensbourg, who continues to collaborate with Liaw on occasion to this day. "He made several discoveries that impacted the research in my group for decades to come. He achieved the rank of Distinguished Professor of Chemistry before I did, and I am honored to have had a part in his distinguished career."

Lukin received his doctorate in physics from Texas A&M in 1998 under the supervision of Distinguished Professor of Physics Dr. Marlan O. Scully. In 2001 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Theoretical Atomic and Molecular Physics at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, he joined the physics faculty at Harvard University. Three years later, he earned tenure, becoming a full professor at the age of 33 in less time than it took him to receive a Ph.D.

Building on pioneering concepts he was first exposed to while at Texas A&M, Lukin and his colleagues stunned the world by stopping and storing pulses of light, making artificial atoms behave in new and fascinating ways, and doing engineering with individual quanta of light and matter -- breakthroughs that span the gamut of fundamental science and practical engineering. During the past decade, he has emerged as a central figure for an exciting scientific enterprise that has branched out from slow and trapped light to include sensing and spectroscopy as well as generation of novel quantum states of matter and entanglement -- developments that are central to exploring the next frontiers of quantum science, engineering, and information processing.

"Professor Marlan Scully has had many acclaimed Ph.D. students," said Dr. Stephen E. Harris, Kenneth and Barbara Oshman Professor in The School of Engineering and an emeritus professor of applied physics at Stanford University. "Of these, Professor Mikhail Lukin is far and away the strongest ... a brilliant, insightful optical physicist with a penetrating and off-scale intuition.

"From the Web of Science, as of today, Mikhail Lukin has three papers cited over 1,000 times each, seven papers cited over 500 times each, and 46 papers cited over 100 times each. His h-index is 65, a number seldom reached by any scientist of any age."

Powell received his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Texas A&M in 1962. After working two years for Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Powell returned to his family's small Houston-based business and founded two subsequent corporations that he later merged and integrated into Powell Industries Inc., an international leader in engineering solutions to manage complex, critical processes that control power, water, wastewater, transportation, and petrochemicals. He served nearly two decades as chief executive officer and chairman of the company, renowned by its 50th anniversary in 1997 as a publicly traded global leader in arc-resistant technology and electrical-voltage-regulation devices, retiring in 2012 as chairman of the board.

In 2007, Powell created two major opportunities for faculty at his alma mater, establishing $1 million endowed chairs in both mathematics and marine engineering technology in an ongoing effort to achieve another of his lifelong ambitions -- closer ties between the main university and its maritime campus in Galveston. A former member of the Texas A&M-Galveston Board of Visitors, Powell recently was honored as the namesake of the campus' new Engineering Technology Building. In addition, he is active in a variety of community and civic causes, including past and current service on a number of area boards and committees.

"Tom took a leadership role in transforming Powell Industries into the world-class supplier of electrical distribution equipment it has become today," said Don Birkelbach '70, senior regional director of major gifts for the Texas A&M Foundation and an ADFS member since 2000. "He has been a faithful supporter of Texas A&M, and his company has provided employment opportunities for many Aggies over the years. He is a great example for our current students of how one can take the degree and other lessons they learn at A&M to achieve success and benefit society."

Ward received his bachelor's degree in physics from Texas A&M in 1965 and a doctorate in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University in 1974. After a postdoctoral stint at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in protein crystallography, he served eight years on the chemistry faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where his laboratory was the first to port high-performance molecular modeling software to an IBM mainframe and to prepare high-quality single crystals of the green fluorescent protein (GFP).

Ward then returned to NRL, where his research team paved the way for a better understanding of the structural mechanisms involved in marine bioluminescent proteins, snake-venom toxins, and enzymes isolated from squid that can efficiently degrade chemical warfare agents. In 1995, he joined the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and demonstrated for the first time the efficacy of detecting and locating unexploded ordinance in shoreline waters using chemical sensors as payloads in small autonomous underwater vehicles. He also began a continuing tenure as technical advisor to the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, which provides improved equipment for Navy Seals. In 2003, Ward became the first program manager in the Department of Homeland Security Advanced Research Project Agency (HSARPA), eventually heading the branch developing next-generation chemical and biological sensors to protect U.S. population centers.

In 2010, Ward was appointed as Senior Science Advisor to the FBI Laboratory, where he led efforts to better transition basic research to meet specific FBI forensics requirements. He has received a Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award (ONR, 2003) and the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Senior Professional (DHS, 2008). Since retiring in 2011 after 27 years of federal service, Ward is an affiliate faculty member at George Mason University and also serves on the steering committee of the Northern Virginia AAAS/SSE STEM Volunteer Program that coordinates placement of retired technical professionals to assist public K-12 science teachers.

"While the accomplishments of Keith's work in my field are very impressive, what stands out in my mind from over a decade ago is his outstanding leadership in guiding a multi-disciplinary team in a very immature technical field," said Richard M. Arrieta, a U.S. Navy ocean engineer and technical director of the Unmanned Maritime Vehicles Laboratory in San Diego. "His ability to 'herd cats' and encourage disciplined, scientific risk-taking has definitely molded a portion of what I do in my career -- and [those of] quite a few other top research scientists and engineers in the U.S."

Members of the Academy receive a commemorative award and have their names inscribed on a perpetual plaque in the College of Science's Dean's Office.

For more information on the Academy and its previous inductees, visit http://www.science.tamu.edu/giving/adfs.php.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Dr. Wen-Feng Liaw '89

  • Dr. Mikhail Lukin '98

  • Mr. Thomas W. Powell '62

  • Dr. Keith B. Ward Jr. '65

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