One of Us: The Person Behind the Professional
Kevin Edgar is a native of New Jersey and grew up 10 miles due west of the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. He attended Bucknell University, located on the banks of the lazy, scenic Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, to earn his first degree in Chemistry. He then attended Duke University in Durham, North Carolina to learn Organic Chemistry while getting his Ph.D. It was there that he developed an appreciation for great basketball, North Carolina barbecue, and the impact on society that a great idea like the Research Triangle Park can have.
Kevin then moved to Kingsport, Tennessee for a long, enjoyable, industrial career with Eastman Chemical Co. It was in Kingsport that he met his wife Marilyn and they raised their “beautiful and wise daughter Emma” who has completed her education and is working as a nurse practitioner. Kevin further developed his hiking addiction, eventually finishing the entire Appalachian Trail as well as a sizeable chunk of the Long Trail in Vermont. Kevin feels very fortunate to have been able to then wander a bit north of TN to Blacksburg and the verdant foothills and mountains around Virginia Tech.
Kevin has always had a love for chemistry and writing. “I distinctly remember a warm summer evening in the months prior to starting at Bucknell, having to choose an undergraduate major. The decision was surprisingly astute for a raw teenager; I could make money as a chemist and still do some writing, or starve as a writer and never get to do chemistry. The choice was clear!”
The joys of working with young people and helping them develop into capable, productive, caring professionals are the reasons that Kevin enjoys being a professor. His favorite class to teach is Polysaccharide Chemistry; he explained teaching that course as “sharing my love and understanding of these natural, sustainable, complicated, diverse, essential materials with the next generations.”
When asked his favorite things about Virginia Tech he listed “so many bright people, so much interdisciplinary breadth, such a strong collaborative spirit. And at how many other universities do all the students actually know and understand the motto of the university, and frequently practice it? Ut Prosim is a wonderful statement and one that actually lives at Virginia Tech.”
We asked Kevin to describe some of the research that he’s been involved with that he finds the most interesting. He told us about his research into helping people absorb medications more easily. “We have collaborated for many years with Lynne Taylor’s group at Purdue to design derivatives of natural and abundant cellulose that can enhance the ability of drugs to more effectively get into the bloodstream of the patient and reach the target organ. This can reduce cost of medical care, side effects, pollution of aquifers, and the necessity for uncomfortably large pills. It can bring new drugs to patients that would otherwise never reach them.”
“We also develop hydrogels based entirely on benign polysaccharides that can lubricate joints, deliver drugs exactly where and when they are needed, and treat serious illnesses. We have developed copolymers based on polysaccharides that, in small quantities, can enable blending two polymers that otherwise just won’t mix, enabling excellent performance along with sustainability. We’re very excited about enhancing both human and environmental health by making better use of these abundant, benign, polysaccharides that nature gives us.”
Kevin’s lab on campus studies the synthesis, analysis, and structure-property-performance evaluation of polysaccharide derivatives. As mentioned, he has particular interest in the creation of novel drug-delivery systems in order to address critical patient needs. In addition to his scholarly interests, Kevin also has his name on over 25 patents/patents pending, most in the drug delivery field dating from the early 1980s thru just last month!
Kevin is active in the Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute (MII) and in the Institute for Critical Technologies and Applied Science (ICTAS). He is a member of the NSF sponsored Materials Innovation Platform focusing on glycoscience (GlycoMIP), and he is co-Director of the Infectious Disease Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (ID IGEP). He leads a track within the ICTAS Center for Engineered Health.
He is an editor-in-chief of the journal Carbohydrate Polymers, and a member of the editorial boards of the journals Biomacromolecules and Cellulose. He is an active member of the American Chemical Society and of its Division of Cellulose and Renewable Materials.
Kevin feels very fortunate to have received the Anselme Payen award from the Cellulose and Renewable Materials Division of the American Chemical Society several years ago. He explained that they are “my professional family and their recognition meant a great deal; the fact that the celebration was in a restaurant overlooking the Golden Gate was not a bad feature, either. Even better, the same group has four times selected one of my graduate students for the most outstanding graduate student award, given to only one student from an international pool of applicants each year. I’m intensely proud of our great group of students.”
Kevin said he would probably be a starving writer, compensating for the lack of chemistry in his life by making ever more elaborate breads and Italian dishes in the kitchen if he were not a professor.
Quote from a colleague:
Kevin Edgar is extraordinarily dedicated, hardworking and productive. He has been one of my role models ever since I met him at a Gordon Research Conference in 2001. His passion for polysaccharide chemistry and devotion to his graduate students is admirable and inspiring. He epitomizes Virginia Tech’s motto “Ut prosim,” serving as an editor on multiple journals, Associate Dean of the Graduate School, in the governance of the American Chemical Society, and as a tireless mentor to countless reports and peers, including me. He has taught me a lot and I am very grateful to have him as a colleague.” – Maren Roman, Associate Professor, Sustainable Biomaterials