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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2013 / 01 

Harold Burkhart named Virginia's Outstanding Scientist of 2013

January 17, 2013

Headshot of Harold E. Burkhart
Harold E. Burkhart

Harold E. Burkhart, University Distinguished Professor and the Thomas M. Brooks Professor of Forestry in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech, has been selected as Virginia’s Outstanding Scientist of 2013 by the Governor’s Office and the Science Museum of Virginia. The award will be presented at a General Assembly reception today.

Also named Virginia’s Outstanding Scientist of 2013 was geoscientist Patricia M. Dove, the C.P. Miles Professor of science in Virginia Tech’s College of Science. A complete story on Dove's award will appear in Virginia Tech News Friday, Jan. 18.

“Forest scientists consider Harold Burkhart the father of forest biometrics, which explores the theory and applications of quantitative models of forest stands,” noted Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger. “Harold’s international leadership in this basic research vastly improved forest development, particularly in the South, and now earns him the title of Virginia’s Outstanding Scientist of 2013.”

“The Virginia Tech community is very proud of this recognition of distinction and Harold’s career-long accomplishments to his discipline of forest science,” Steger continued. “Harold has been a major contributor to establishing our forestry program at Virginia Tech as a global leader.”

Burkhart’s principal path-breaking achievement is the development of a comprehensive, integrated set of forest yield forecasting models for stands subjected to a wide variety of management treatments. His contributions to the advancement of forest growth are unprecedented, and he has led the way in developing new methodology for tree and stand modeling and in elucidating the complex mathematical relationships between models of differing levels.

In 1999 the university bestowed on Burkhart the pre-eminent rank of University Distinguished Professor for his meritorious contributions that have shaped forest modeling from the late 20th century to the current day. University Distinguished Professor status, which is granted to only 1 percent of university faculty, recognizes those whose scholarly achievements have received national and international acclaim.

Peers call Burkhart “a world-class scientist who has been one of the top leaders for more than three decades.” They note that his basic science contributions have set him apart from the majority of other scientists.

During his career Burkhart, whose department resides in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, has made prodigious contributions to forest modeling science with more than 250 research papers published in journals, research bulletins, book chapters, and proceedings papers.

As demand for forest products increases and land area available for timber production decreases, the need for efficient management becomes acute. Implicit in the process of sustainable forest management is the projection of stand development, growth, and yield. Forest managers rely on projected stand values for evaluation production goals, rotation lengths, and feasibility of various forest cultivation alternatives. Quantitative estimates of stand response to treatment are essential for informed decision making.

“Professor Burkhart’s modeling methods have been adopted, extended, and applied in Virginia, across America, and around the world, thus contributing to the goal of sustainable management of forest resources,” explained Paul Winistorfer, dean of the college. “He has significantly advanced the science of sustainability.”

“Harold has achieved so much throughout his career that it really sets him apart as one of the most accomplished forest scientists in North America and globally,” Winistorfer pointed out. “His commitment to the college has been at the highest level, and his care and concern for students complement his many research and outreach achievements. We are very fortunate that Harold chose to make his career at Virginia Tech.”

In addition to Burkhart’s seminal contributions to forest modeling and advancing the science of sustainability, former students and colleagues around the nation also recognize him for his unparalleled success as a mentor to graduate students.

Not only have his scientific inquiries nurtured the next generation of scientists, but Burkhart has freely shared his best ideas and greatest insights with graduate students and postdoctoral associates, encouraging young scholars and helping them become established by listing them as first authors for their collaborative research in juried journal articles.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia awarded Burkhart the Outstanding Faculty Award in 1988 for “combining research and graduate education in exemplary ways.” In 2010, he received the Virginia Tech Alumni Award for Excellence in Graduate Advising.

Burkhart is known around the world for his long-established book co-authored with Thomas Edward Avery, “Forest Measurements,” which has been cited more than a thousand times by other scientists in their writings. His new book “Modeling Forest Trees and Stands,” published in 2012, is already on its way to becoming the leading reference in this research specialty.

Burkhart, the endowed Thomas M. Brooks Professor of Forestry, served as department head from 1995 to 2008. He is a Fellow in the Society of American Foresters and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and holds professional memberships in numerous other organizations.

He received his bachelor’s in forestry from Oklahoma State University and his master’s and doctorate in forest biometrics from the University of Georgia.