The physics program at Lebanon Valley College will receive $6.2 million from a donation from a renowned alumna who helped develop training software for astronauts.
The funds donated by Dr. Elizabeth Miller Bains ’64 and her husband, Dr. James A. Bains Jr., will support a number of initiatives, including research opportunities for students, faculty, and staff; a new faculty position in engineering physics, a new major field launching this fall; a new lab, research space, and equipment for the physics department, and conference travel for students and faculty to regional, national and international conferences.
Elizabeth Bains died July 27, 2016, at age 73.
“Elizabeth left an extraordinary and historic academic and scientific legacy at her alma mater,” said Dr. James MacLaren, LVC president. “Now, her and James’ generosity will ensure that countless current and future LVC Physics majors aspire to her achievements.”
After graduating from LVC, Elizabeth Bains became a U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory physicist for one year before earning her master’s and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Tennessee. She was an assistant professor of physics at Alcorn State University in Mississippi, where she taught for three years before becoming a senior engineer at Lockheed Engineering Management & Services. In 1988, Bains joined NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston as an aerospace engineer and, in 1990, was appointed deputy branch chief, simulation systems, a position from which she retired in 2013.
At NASA, Bains helped create the software for the computer simulators used to train American astronauts. She was in charge of analyzing how to assemble the International Space Station. In 2003, her primary focus was to develop procedures to repair damaged shuttle tiles while in space to prevent another shuttle from exploding on re-entry.
She received several NASA Team Awards as well as NASA’s National Exceptional Achievement Medal in 1995, 1996, and 2005. In 1990, she received the Silver Snoopy Award, the astronauts’ award for outstanding performance, contributing to flight safety, and mission success. Fewer than 1 percent of aerospace program workers receive it each year.
Bains praised the opportunity she had to earn a liberal arts education and credits LVC for the excellent education she received in physics, language, and writing. She returned as a guest lecturer and contributed financially to numerous programs, including The Rhodes and O’Donnell Endowed Physics Research Fund in honor of her former faculty mentors. She was recognized as a Lifetime Vickroy Associate, a prestigious group of donors who have demonstrated a lasting commitment to support the college by giving $100,000 or more to LVC during their lifetime and being active figures in their communities.
In 1995, Dr. Bains received an Alumni Citation from LVC, followed by a Professional Achievement Award in 2005 and, in 2015, the college’s most prestigious alumni award, the Distinguished Alumna Award.
“As an alum of LVC who benefited from student-faculty research during my time as a Physics and Mathematics double major, I am excited about our ability to further enhance the high-impact experiences of our students and offer new pathways through the Engineering Physics major,” said Dr. Dan Pitonyak, assistant professor and chair of physics. “The Bains’ overwhelming generosity is a testament to the importance and value they placed on student-faculty activities in Physics in a liberal arts environment, and we look forward to carrying on that legacy.”
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