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Emeritus Professor Honored by Alum’s Gift

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Chemistry alumnus W. Edward Billups has endowed a fund in honor of his mentor Norm Deno, who taught chemistry at Penn State from 1950 until his retirement in 1980.

Billups, a professor of chemistry at Rice University in Houston, came to Penn State in 1968 after six years as a research chemist at Union Carbide. Having earned an undergraduate degree from Marshall University in his native West Virginia, he was looking for the best place to pursue a doctorate. 

“It was Penn State or Princeton,” said Billups.  “Penn State said I could do it in two years.  Princeton would have taken four.  I never would have done it if it took four years.”  
Deno recalls Billups as a very bright and successful student. “He saw how much time I spent in the lab,” Deno said, “more than the other faculty, and that impressed him, so he came to me and said, ‘I’m your man.’  I told him I didn’t have any more graduate fellowships or assistantships to offer, and he said, ‘I don’t care.’” 

Billups finished his Ph.D. in 1970 and joined the Rice faculty as an assistant professor. He spent the rest of his career there, including a six-year stint as department chair.  He has specialized in organic chemistry and especially carbon nanomaterials.

Deno, 94, enjoys retirement in his State College house surrounded by the flowers and plants that are his passion and specialty.  He was always interested in horticulture, he said, and after retiring he applied the techniques of mechanistic chemistry to seed germination.  “The results were amazing!” he said.  Over the last 30 years, he studied than 6,000 species and described the seed germination process of each one, which he detailed in a book that has been distributed worldwide. 

The Norm Deno Program Fund in Chemistry will support initiatives in the chemistry department as determined by the department chair.  Those interested in contributing to the fund may contact the development office in the Eberly College of Science.

—Selden Smith

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