Renowned Researcher, Educator John Scully Earns International Teaching Award

John R. Scully, UVA’s Charles Henderson Chaired Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and interim department chair, has earned the Electrochemical Society’s 2016 Henry B. Linford Award for Distinguished Teaching. The international award is bestowed upon one outstanding teacher every other year in May.

The Electrochemical Society, a non-profit educational organization with more than 8,000 members in 70 countries, established the award in 1981 for excellence in teaching in subject areas of interest to the Society.

Scully is renowned for excellence in both teaching and research. He is a fellow of the Electrochemical Society, the National Association of Corrosion Engineers, and the American Society for Metals. In 2010, he received the Electrochemical Society’s H.H. Uhlig Award for excellence in corrosion research and outstanding technical contributions to the field of corrosion science and technology. The National Association of Corrosion Engineers in 2012 honored him with the W. R. Whitney Award for significant contributions to corrosion science.

At UVA, he has mentored more than 35 Ph.D. students, 13 post-doctoral scholars, and many undergraduate students and visiting scholars.

“John Scully is the model for junior faculty in terms of their aspirations to succeed as an academic,” said Ronald Latanision, senior fellow for materials and corrosion engineering at the research firm Exponent, professor emeritus at MIT and member of the National Academy of Engineering, in a letter supporting Scully for the award. “His students are regularly expected to speak at professional society meetings, and they are supremely well prepared. It is very clear that John really cares about these young people and that they appreciate this care. This preparation is enormously important as they launch their own careers. I look for University of Virginia graduate students when we have openings on our staff and we hire them as often as we can!”

Scully is co-director of the UVA Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering, a multi-disciplinary research effort that includes activities in the departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Chemical Engineering, as well as interactions with Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Systems Engineering and Physics. It is a leading research center in the nation, and draws millions of dollars in research grants from corporate and governmental partners such as the Department of Defense. The center’s work relates to the performance and reliability of most engineered materials products manufactured in the world today.

Scully also serves as technical editor in chief of Corrosion: the Journal of Science and Engineering, where he recently released an editorial regarding the Flint, Mich., water pipe crisis, and also made publicly available journal articles that could advance a national conversation regarding corrosion issues in public infrastructure.

“Unfortunately, given the amount of lead pipe in use in drinking systems around the world,” Scully said, “I suspect this information will be useful to others in the not too distant future.”

Scully has studied many aspects of corrosion for decades, and his research has been published in Nature Materials, Science and Electrochemistry Communications, among other publications. He also is passionate about balancing scientific discovery with helping society. He provided expertise and testimony in 2010 in the multi-state, class-action lawsuit brought by homeowners against manufacturers, distributors and installers of Chinese drywall, which Scully showed emitted noxious sulfur gases that corroded electrical wiring, switches, smoke detectors and appliances in the homes where the drywall existed. Scully’s work contributed to the Consumer Product Safety Commission urging homeowners to remove Chinese drywall wherever it had been installed.

He also helped identify the causes of corrosion in 2013 on a project designed to strengthen and stabilize the San Francisco Bay Bridge – the nation’s second-busiest span – during earthquakes. Galvanized steel bolts were contaminated by hydrogen, causing them to become brittle and crack. Fixing that issue cost $45 million.

“Today, a lot of the research on corrosion is already distilled into standards and guidelines that engineers, technicians and others can use so that we can avoid such foreseeable catastrophes,” he said. However, the steady and even accelerated rate of invention of new materials and harsh environments create the continual need for new science.

Teaching is also one of his missions. Scully has dedicated himself to producing large numbers of graduates in applied electrochemistry and electrochemical aspects of materials science. Master’s and doctoral degree graduates from the Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering are working in corporations and serving as faculty members at universities around the world. Seven of his students and post-docs are on the faculties at universities around the world, including two endowed chaired professors.

A father of three daughters, including one who is a student at UVA Engineering, Scully has focused on the recruitment and success of women and individuals from other demographic groups underrepresented in engineering.

Leslie Bland, one of his Ph.D. students, said, “John Scully is a great teacher because he cares about his students. I have seen him grade tests, and he takes it to heart if his student does not do well. He is a great adviser for much of this same reason. He really wants to see his students succeed and cares about us each as individuals.”

Scully said, “I take as a challenge trying to be a good classroom teacher by telling an interesting, often dramatic story about an event involving materials science that convinces people the field is important to society.”

He encourages his students to present at conferences and prepares them well. The Electrochemical Society recently ranked a group of 32 students from Scully’s Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering as the No. 1 group in the United States.

In preparing students to present their work, Scully said, “You create an environment where the students can flourish. Trial by fire gives them a better ability to do this work in the field and present their findings in difficult situations, such as invited science talks and even depositions.”

When he joined the UVA Materials Science and Engineering Department in 1990, his mentor was Professor Emeritus Glenn Stoner, who founded the Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering in 1974. Scully has never forgotten something Stoner once said to him: “Don’t worry about promotions or about being a world-class scientist. The success of your students is your biggest reward.”

Scully said he was humbled by the Linford award. “It’s all about the students I have surrounded myself with.”