B.S., Chemistry, 1974
As an inquisitive child, Dr. Mary Wirth played with her father’s telescope and collected fossils. As she grew older, however, Dr. Wirth wanted to learn more about the rocks she collected. Soon, she discovered that chemistry could help her find the answers. Those early experiences, coupled with her hunger for knowledge, sparked a lifelong interest in the pursuit of knowledge. Though her family supported her interests, Dr. Wirth faced the same obstacles that many young women with an interest in science encountered at that time. When her principal blocked her from taking a fourth-year math class, she left high school a year early and began taking college classes.
Dr. Wirth earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry at NIU, where her academic performance and passion for science greatly impressed her professors. In her senior year, she defied convention by enrolling in–and successfully completing–three graduate-level courses. After graduating from NIU, she continued her education at Purdue University, where she received her Ph.D. in only four years.
Since then, Dr. Wirth’s career has been truly spectacular by all measures. She has published over 100 original scientific papers, directed scores of graduate students’ studies, and received millions of dollars in research grant funds. She has also received a number of accolades, including the American Chemical Society Division of Analytical Chemistry Award in Spectrochemical Analysis, the National Science Foundation Creativity Award, and the ANACHEM Award. She has been recognized by Purdue with a Distinguished Chemistry Alumni Award and was selected to be one of the institution’s inaugural class of Distinguished Women Scholars. As further evidence of her illustrious career, Dr. Wirth is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
As a founding member of the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists (COACh), Dr. Wirth has helped open doors for countless young women to follow in her footsteps. This national organization provides avenues of networking and mentoring for scientists and engineers at all levels, helping them pursue teaching careers, research experiences, and career advancement. Over 6,000 faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral associates have attended COACh workshops in over 60 academic institutions.
As the W. Brooks Fortune Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Purdue, Dr. Wirth’s research has focused on the detection of biomarkers in the blood, which may help in early detection of cancer and infectious diseases through simple blood tests. Her research led her to found bioVidria, a company that develops products to meet the growing demand for accurate data and quick test results. In summarizing her research, Dr. Wirth explains, “We work at the interface of chemistry and medicine. The dream of 21st century medicine is that simple lab tests will reveal diseases well before the onset of symptoms, while the disease is easily curable.”
Through her remarkable achievements and her role in supporting and advancing the careers of others, Dr. Mary Wirth has distinguished herself as a visionary scholar and an inspirational leader in expanding scientific research and knowledge.
by Cameron Orr