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COLLEGE STATION --

Three 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. Scott W. Ballinger, Class of 1983, of Birmingham, Ala.; Dr. Sam G. Gibbs, Class of 1954, of Midland, Texas; and Dr. Ketan S. Patel, Class of 1996, of Fort Detrick, Md., will be recognized Thursday (Mar. 26) 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 new 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. Ballinger, Gibbs and Patel join a prestigious list of 48 previous honorees distinguished for their merit and innovative achievements.

"We are honored and privileged to add Scott Ballinger, Sam Gibbs and Ketan Patel to an esteemed group that epitomizes Texas A&M scientific and technological excellence," said Dr. H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science. "Their accomplishments have advanced healthcare and disease prevention, the petroleum industry and innovation, and plant biology and the biodefense sector. Each is a stellar example of both the College of Science's and Texas A&M University's strong tradition of distinction in pioneering scientific education, leadership and knowledge generation to benefit our professions and the world."

Ballinger received a bachelor of science in zoology in 1983 and a master of science in wildlife and fisheries sciences in 1987 from Texas A&M, as well as a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1993 from Emory University. After postdoctoral training at the University of Vermont as a Department of Energy Alexander Hollaender Distinguished Fellow (1994-1996), he accepted his first faculty appointment as an assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston (UTMB).

Since 2002, he has been a professor of pathology in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Pathology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. There, he serves as co-director of the National Institutes of Health-funded Pre-Doctoral Training Program in Cardiovascular Pathophysiology, as director of the Bioanalytical Redox Biology core funded through the NIH-supported Diabetes Research Center at UAB, as the primary investigator for multiple NIH-sponsored grants, and as a regular NIH study section member.

Ballinger, who continually has been funded by the NIH since 1998, is known for his innovative thinking and out-of-the-box concepts regarding mitochondrial biology, evolution and the basis for disease development. His dissertation work under his Ph.D. mentor, Dr. Douglas C. Wallace, was among the first to note a connection between mitochondrial genetics and diabetes. As a young faculty member, first at UTMB and then at UAB, his research group and collaborators were among the first to note a connection between cardiovascular disease and increased mitochondrial damage. Later, his group showed that developmental exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke increased adult cardiovascular disease risk, which was linked to mitochondrial damage and function. More recently, he is exploring the genetic basis of common disease susceptibility by proposing the new concept that "Mito-Mendelian" genetics influence cellular and metabolic responses to environmental factors, which play a role in dictating genetic risk for most forms of common disease.

"Dr. Ballinger is a great teacher and one of the most creative people with whom I have ever had the privilege of working," said Dr. Danny Welch, professor and chair of the Department of Cancer Biology at the University of Kansas and a former faculty colleague at UAB. "His creativity is not 'pie in the sky' but firmly rooted in tenets of biology, genetics and biochemistry. He is willing to challenge dogma and chart his own course, simply following the data. He sets high standards for himself, his colleagues and his trainees and pushes everyone to go to the next level. He does all of this while maintaining the highest ethical standards. In short, Dr. Ballinger is so good that he improves everyone with whom he interacts."

Gibbs received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1954 and a master's degree in mathematics in 1960 from Texas A&M before earning a Ph.D. in 1968 from Rice University. He was hired by Shell after graduation but soon was drafted into the U.S. Army. After military service, he returned to Shell and spent a year on assignment in Midland before heading to Texas A&M to get his master's degree through the G.I. Bill. Shell Development later hired him as a production engineering researcher in Houston, where he developed wave equation diagnostic and design methods for rod-pumped wells now used worldwide. During this period, he also served as head of drilling research while simultaneously earning his Ph.D. at Rice.

Gibbs became Division Engineer in New Orleans but soon left to enter private business, co-founding Midland-based Nabla Corp., which rendered well-site diagnostic analyses, under license from Shell, using truck-borne mini-computers. Nabla's product line grew to include design and diagnosis of hydraulic and submersible pump systems, technical training, related software and subsequent oil-field equipment, including digital dynamometers, pump-off controls and fluid level instruments. Nabla existed for 26 years until it sold to Lufkin Industries in 1997. Gibbs' patent on downhole card control of pumping wells was used by Lufkin to create the SAM Well Manager, the world's bestselling control device for rod-pumped wells.

A member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers since 1962, the Permian Basin Petroleum Pioneers and the Lufkin High School Hall of Honor, Gibbs' many awards include Texas Tech University's J. C. Slonneger Award (1987) and Duane A. Crawford Service Award (1996), election to the SPE Permian Basin Section Hall of Fame (1992), the SPE International Production Engineering Award (2001), induction into the Midland Petroleum Museum's Petroleum Hall of Fame (2011), the Permian Basin Petroleum Pioneers' Pioneering Technology Award (2013) and designation as an SPE Legend of Artificial Lift (2014). In retirement, Gibbs authored a textbook, ROD PUMPING: Modern Methods of Design, Diagnosis and Surveillance.

"The impact that Dr. Gibbs' wave equation application has had on the industry is astounding," said Jeffrey J. DaCunha '13, who earned his master's degree in petroleum engineering at Texas A&M and first met Gibbs in 2006 when he entered the oil field after completing a three-year National Academy of Sciences Davies Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. "Literally thousands of people now have careers based on the methods of analysis and design developed by Dr. Gibbs, including me. Over the course of Dr. Gibbs' life, it is extremely evident that the technical advancements that he made and continues to make presently in the industry, in which he continues to work, far exceed those of any person to have ever worked with pumping units in the oil and gas industry."

Patel received a bachelor of science in biochemistry in 1996 and his Ph.D. in biology in 2006 from Texas A&M. A respected leader in plant biology and the biodefense sector, he currently serves as a Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC) subject matter expert and lead trainer for diagnostic and capacity building in the Former Soviet Union, Africa and the Middle East. Last fall, he assisted in mobilizing and setting up the first U.S. Navy mobile labs to help combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. As a member of the first team deployed into Liberia, he established important relationships with doctors and healthcare workers on the front lines of the global crisis as well as protocols to process blood samples containing the Ebola virus, improving treatment and ensuring both safety and faster diagnosis.

Patel's pioneering career has covered the spectrum of academic, military and civilian service, beginning as a graduate research assistant studying plant biology with Professor Tom McKnight in the Texas A&M Department of Biology. He joined the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) in 2006 as branch chief of the molecular and genomics department. Within three years, he modernized the Air Force Proficiency Program, a cornerstone of Home Station Medical Response-Laboratory Biological Detection Teams, thereby ensuring the Air Force's constant readiness to accurately identify the presence of bio-warfare agents. Patel also helped transform and advance diagnostic capabilities for the detection of dangerous pathogens, helping to manage four bio-defense projects valued at more than $7.5 million that were integral to maintaining a superior quality program and a unique asset in the nation's growing preparedness for biological and chemical terrorism.

Later as a postdoctoral researcher at the newly constructed North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, he helped established a state-of-the-art, multi-million plant biology laboratory at the Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI). His leadership and experience allowed the lab to quickly start working on problems to elucidate plant responses to abiotic and biotic stress, resulting in five publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. He collaborated with colleagues at North Carolina State University to sequence and annotate the genome of blueberry, an important fruit known for its antioxidant phytochemicals that can help prevent disease and improve health.

"In my 29 years at Texas A&M, I have had many graduate students, but I am the most proud of Ketan, his accomplishments, and the way that he embodies the important Aggie values of excellence, leadership and selfless service," McKnight said. "Since his graduation, Ketan has selflessly served to make our country and our world a better place. In addition to his amazing efforts at a global level, Ketan is also working to make a difference at the local level. He has been a science fair judge for a middle school in the Washington, D.C. area, he is a career day presenter at local elementary schools that serves students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and he frequently serves as a volunteer laboratory mentor wherever his assignments take him. He and I currently are working to get him back to campus to inform our students, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, about the novel career paths available to them. He is clearly committed to giving back to others and to helping shape future scientists."

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.

-aTm-

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

Hutchins Shana

  • Dr. Scott W. Ballinger '83

  • Dr. Sam G. Gibbs '54

  • Dr. Ketan S. Patel '96

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