University Distinguished Professorship latest recognition of Patricia Dove's commitment to scholarship
It’s been an exciting year for Patricia Dove.
Dove, the C.P. Miles Professor of Science in Geoscience in the College of Science, was elected to the National Academy of Science, becoming just the fourth faculty member to earn the honor while at Virginia Tech. She was named a 2013 Virginia Scientist of the Year, and yesterday, she became a University Distinguished Professor.
The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors honored Dove with a University Distinguished Professorship, a rank bestowed on no more than 1 percent of Virginia Tech faculty whose scholarly attainments have attracted national and international recognition.
Despite these many honors, however, Dove hasn’t lost focus on her research or her students.
“This past year has been quite an experience,” she admits, “and I’m deeply humbled by the recognition of scientific contributions from my research group. But science moves on and my graduate students have exciting new projects underway that demand attention and time. My main focus continues to be helping them build and grow their careers. The same can be said for my family life.”
A two-time Hokie, earning both bachelor's degree and master's degree at Virginia Tech before earning a doctoral degree at Princeton University, Dove said her outlook on the geoscience discipline featured an ‘ah-ha’ moment in her senior undergraduate year.
“It was an unexpected twist,” she said. “While fulfilling my geology requirements I discovered everything I had learned about soil development and plant physiology fit into a bigger picture of how the earth worked and how life and landscapes developed over deep time. To understand how the earth works, that’s the true zest of science for me.”
That zest for answers means Dove’s passion for her work continues to challenge her and push her forward, especially in the area of her first interest in biological minerals. She is working to harness nature’s abilities to grow minerals into the remarkable composite structures that we know as bones, teeth and shells.
“Over 500 million years nature has become a sophisticated biochemist and mineralogist with a detailed playbook of how to synthesize a wide variety of functional earth materials,” she said.
Another interest regards evolutionary biology and the chemistry and structures of biominerals in the fossil record and what they can help teach us about earth history.
“The chemical composition of some fossil biominerals can be used to reconstruct the environments where animals lived,” she explained. “The evolutionary tree of life shows that organisms with the ability to make calcium carbonate skeletons has popped up independently at least 23 different times. Diverse organisms apparently share a common biochemistry or set of genes that set the stage for carbonate minerals to develop.”
Dove believes there will be a landslide of advances over the next few years as interdisciplinary studies decipher new knowledge into the physical basis for the evolutionary innovation that has produced what we know as modern organisms.
“I believe our work has inspired a new generation of scientists to study how organic tissues of animals are able to control the timing and placement and organization of minerals into the amazing functional structures we call skeletons and teeth and shells,” she said. “The traditional domain of earth sciences was to think about minerals and crystals forming under high temperatures and pressures. But there is much more at the intersection of earth and life. The fossil record shows life developed the ability to produce spectacular mineral structures using little more than salty water and organic molecules. This ability to adapt over time gives nature top honors for functional materials synthesis.”
In addition to her research, Dove also hopes to continue playing an active role in mentoring younger scientists as they strive to build successful careers.
“The careful and conservative way that science moves forward is one of the fulfillments of making this a career,” she said. “But some facets of society seem to have forgotten the remarkable advances that science has provided to our knowledge and well-being. Society needs to support scientists and the critical work they contribute toward securing the future for all of us in the global competitive environment.”
A prolific writer, Dove has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Nature, and Science among others, and her work has been cited more than 3,800 times.