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Saying Goodbye

March 14, 2014 – By Scott Renneckar

This time of year always marks sad goodbyes with graduates leaving for exciting careers, being able to implement their newfound knowledge for the benefit of society. These new beginnings for graduates are part of the academic cycle with a new class of students starting in the fall with open minds and boundless energy. My own study in the department began 20 years ago as a freshman entering Virginia Tech to study Wood Science with little knowledge of the subject outside of a friend that mentioned if I was interested in engineering, science, and business, I should study Wood Science and Forest Products. After completing Wood Identification and Properties my freshman year, thanks to the great advising of Dr. “Uncle Geza” Ifju, who said I can just pick up second semester biology later, I quickly found that I was enamored by wood as a key sustainable biomaterial for society and I knew I found the right major (no matter how much my roommates teased me about toothpicks or how many times by parents asked me, “isn’t there some technical term like xylemology?”).


Scott Renneckar lectures in Slovenia Scott Renneckar lectures in Slovenia about composites created from Sustainable Biomaterials.

Numerous courses about the most common and also the most complex material later prepared me to leave Blacksburg to start a master’s degree at the University of California during the dot-com boom and the sunset years of the Wood Science Program at Berkeley. After figuring out how to write a thesis and graduate, I found my way back to Blacksburg to start a PhD degree co-advised by Drs. Zink-Sharp and Glasser. My first semester back, I quickly discovered that new technology was letting us explore features at the nanoscale (one billionth of a meter) with precision not previously known. From learning high-resolution microscopy techniques in order to explore fiber modification to preparing nanometer thick Langmuir Blodgett films of cellulose for model studies, I was developing a new perspective on the elegance of wood and other natural materials. Additionally, I was able to serve as a teaching assistant for Wood Identification and Properties getting my feet wet in the classroom.

My studies at Virginia Tech were formative providing me the opportunities to learn about conducting high caliber science on materials that are grown within our backyards and borders and teaching about them in the classroom.

Since serving as a faculty member, I have seen first hand the effort the faculty put into this program to inspire students and make the world more sustainable through world-class research. I would like to openly thank them for contributing to the successes I have had in my career. As our Department continues to expand into new fields related to packaging, bioenergy, and biomaterials, I expect many more students like me with broad interest in the environment related to science, engineering, and business will be starting in the fall of 2014 not realizing they just stumbled across a career of a life time.

Note: Dr. Renneckar has taken a chaired position at the University of British Columbia. The department wishes Scott the very best in his new position and will continue to work with him in his new role.



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