Duncan M. Porter of Blacksburg, professor of botany in the College of Science, has been selected for a 2006 Lifetime Achievement in Science Award by the Science Museum of Virginia.
As part of the Virginia’s Outstanding Scientist Award program, the Lifetime Achievement Award honors individuals whose careers in science have shown extraordinary distinction. This prestigious award is not offered annually but at the discretion of the award selection panels. Eighteen individuals have received the Lifetime Achievement in Science Award since 1989.
Information on all the state’s Outstanding Scientists and Industrialists of 2006 announced by Governor Timothy M. Kaine and Science Museum of Virginia Director Walter R.T. Witschey can be found here. The honorees will be introduced to the General Assembly on Thursday, March 2, and will receive their awards at a banquet at the Science Museum on Tuesday, April 4.
Porter is the third from Virginia Tech to receive the honor. The other two are John Cairns, former University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology, in 1991 and Ali Hasan Nayfeh, University Distinguished Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics in the College of Engineering, in 2005.
One of Porter’s most notable contributions to science has been his leading role in the Darwin Correspondence Project, which is administered jointly by the American Council of Learned Societies and Cambridge University Library. Porter joined the project in 1991 as a senior editor and assumed the role of director in 1997. He and his colleagues are transcribing, cataloguing, and annotating all of Charles Darwin’s many thousands of letters (written and received), year-by-year, and then publishing the annotated letters in a set of volumes that will ultimately number 30.
“Charles Darwin is considered one of the greatest thinkers of all time, and is considered a national treasure in the United Kingdom,” said Robert Jones, head of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech. “It is a clear indication of Duncan’s stature as a scholar that Cambridge University placed its trust in an American to lead this high-profile project.”
When asked to evaluate the importance of Porter’s work on the Darwin project, John Tyson, University Distinguished Professor of Biology at Virginia Tech and a Virginia Outstanding Scientist for 2004, said, “This work will be read and cited as long as people are interested in the historical and scientific foundations of the life sciences. Few Commonwealth scientists have had the opportunity to make such an important and lasting contribution to the public understanding of science.”
In addition to his work on the Darwin Correspondence Project, Porter has won international recognition for his research on the flora of the Galapagos Islands. He also conducts research in plant systematics and conservation biology, with a focus on tropical and local plants, including rare and endangered species in Virginia. He has described the ecology and status of two of the rarest plants on earth, Virginia’s round-leaved birch and Peter’s Mountain mallow and made major contributions toward protecting them from extinction.
Porter received his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Stanford University and earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1975 and was made full professor in 1984. Porter has published 18 books and monographs, 55 papers in selected journals and has been invited to present research seminars at more than 60 institutions throughout the world. He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London and the American Association of the Advancement of Science.