Professor’s body of research led scientific peers to elect her to National Academy of Sciences

Adam Wallace never expected to study in Southwest Virginia for his doctorate. But when he was looking into programs while working as a technician at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the scientists there suggested he speak with Virginia Tech Professor Patricia Dove.

“I lived in California my whole life and never thought I’d move to rural Virginia, but after visiting as a prospective graduate student and talking with her, that’s where I knew I would go,” said Wallace, who earned his doctorate in biogeochemistry and is now a postdoctoral Fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “I was lucky to have a collection of people around me [at Lawrence Livermore] who were very expert advisors, and they recommended Dr. Dove and the [Virginia Tech] Department of Geosciences very highly.”


Professor Patricia Dove discusses experiments with Adam Angel of Rockford, Ill., a master’s degree student in geosciences. Professor Patricia Dove discusses experiments with Adam Angel of Rockford, Ill., a master’s degree student in geosciences.

Wallace’s experience illustrates the stellar reputation Dove has built over two decades in her field, where she pioneered applying chemical principles and nano-scale analytical methods to research into how minerals grow and weather.

 In April 2013, her accomplishments will be highlighted further, in one of the most prominent ways possible for any U.S. scientist, when she will be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.

A 149-year-old institution

Through an act of Congress signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the academy was created to provide government with independent, expert advice to help guide policy decisions. Existing members of the academy elect new ones. Being chosen is one of the top honors a U.S. scientist can receive, and the number of academy members on a university’s faculty is a measure that is often cited as proof of research excellence.

“Having this world-class scholar in our midst is a tremendous asset for the entire community, and we are thrilled that Dr. Dove’s work has been recognized with this rare honor,” Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger said when Dove’s election was announced in spring 2012.

Dove and 84 other new members, along with 21 foreign associates, will officially become part of the academy at its 150th annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“Over the years, I have served on committees with a number of other scientists who are now National Academy of Sciences members and I found each of them to be thoughtful and careful individuals whom I greatly admired,” Dove said. “It is very humbling and a great honor that these same individuals regard my own work to be of a quality and level of contribution that is worthy of this recognition.”

‘Fundamental principles of broad relevance’

Dove grew up in Bedford, Va. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Virginia Tech and her doctorate at Princeton. After completing a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford, she was on the Georgia Tech faculty for seven years before returning to Virginia Tech in 2000.


Patricia Dove Patricia Dove and her research unit, Biogeochemistry of Earth Processes, work out of Derring Hall.

At Virginia Tech, Dove heads the Biogeochemistry of Earth Processes research group within the Department of Geosciences, which is part of the College of Science. Through careful experimentation and statistical modeling, she and her students have been able to shed new light on the chemical processes that enable organisms to develop skeletons. Her publications have been cited more than 3,000 times, and she and her group have won two Best University Research Awards from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Developing materials with superior strength-to-weight ratios, understanding how the rising acidity of seawater may affect the tiny phytoplankton that create much of the oceans’ oxygen, and new approaches to strengthening soils are just a few of the types of projects that are benefitting from the work of Dove and her colleagues.

“Professor Dove is a standout in her field of specialization, but because her work addresses fundamental principles of broad relevance, her contributions have also had a major impact on several other areas of geochemistry and mineralogy,” said E. Bruce Watson, a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who was elected to the national academy in 1997.

Within her field, Dove is known for bringing new approaches to longstanding research problems by conducting meticulous, difficult experiments that require making precise measurements of chemical processes at the nano-scale.

“It’s very challenging to pull off some of the experiments, but when they work they give you elegant, quantitative data and unprecedented insights,” Dove said. “With that evidence, we are able to test, for the very first time, fundamental and closely held theories that have never been proven by experiment.”

Alexandra Navrotsky, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who was elected to the national academy in 1993, called Dove a “pioneer” in her approach to experimentation.

“What is unusual about her work is the quantitative rigor with which she approaches these chemical processes,” Navrotsky said. “Anyone can view how a mineral forms and anyone can view that it is beautiful, but what are the chemical controls on making something like that?”

That type of question is much tougher to answer, but it’s one that Dove has shown the ambition and ability to take on, Navrotsky said.

For more information on this topic, contact Albert Raboteau at 540-231-4733.

Tiny precise measurements

    Patricia Dove and her research group grew this calcite crystal in solution and precisely measured its development.

Professor Patricia Dove and her research group grew this calcite crystal in solution and precisely measured its development.

By varying the solution, they were able to measure differences in how such crystals develop, even though each step in the crystals’ pyramid-like stacks was just three Angstroms high. An Angstrom is one ten-millionth of a millimeter.

Dove's other honors

Being elected to the National Academy of Sciences is one of several honors Patricia Dove has received in recent years.

In 2008 she was named a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and in 2010 she was appointed to the C.P. "Sally" Miles Professorship.

A distinguished foursome

Along with Patricia Dove, three other Virginia Tech professors have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences:

An indication of research excellence

The National Academy of Sciences is one of several organizations created to expert advice to government to help guide policy decisions. The National Academy of Engineering, which has elected 14 Virginia Tech professors to membership, is another.

“Universities take great pride in providing an environment that nurtures the growth and development of colleagues who merit election to the academies,” said Mark McNamee, Virginia Tech’s senior vice president and provost. “As Virginia Tech continues to expand the size and impact of its research programs, we hope and expect that Dr. [Patricia] Dove’s election signals a bright future for scholars here.”

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