After 45 years of teaching, Dr. Ed Wilson, professor of chemistry, has created a lasting legacy in the college of sciences.
To date, Wilson has secured approximately $1.8 million in grants for the science department over the past 25 years from NASA, the National Space Grant Program, the National Institute of Health, the American Chemical Society and the National Science Foundation. The financial backing from such institutions and organizations has funded numerous projects and scientific purchases for Wilson and his student research teams.
Wilson and his students are working on a partnership with University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to study the lakes on Saturn’s second largest moon, Titan for one of the many grant-supported projects. They use a Mars Simulation Chamber to reproduce any atmosphere in the solar system to study the effects of different materials and gases.
Along building robots for research on Mars and a solar spectrograph for studying the sun, one recent project the team has been working on is developing a set of orbit-ready satellites.
“We’re trying to be the first team to put a satellite into orbit from Arkansas,” Wilson said. “We’re hoping to put a whole fleet of satellites (into orbit).”
Although the money has been used for various projects and equipment over the years, a majority of the grant funding has gone to scholarships for students, according to Wilson. Wilson’s passion for research and the students he works with is apparent; he said that some summers he works for free because he loves it.
Wilson graduated from North Kingston Township High School in Wickford, Rhode Island, although he did not grow up there. With a father in the military, Wilson attended 13 different schools in 12 years. From two weeks to two years, Wilson lived in multiple locations from New England to Hawaii and even a stint at the Panama Canal.
After high school, Wilson obtained his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Auburn University then continued to the University of Alabama for his doctorate in physical chemistry. Along with his focus in physical chemistry, Wilson studied chemistry and organic chemistry as minors during his doctoral studies. Before coming to work for Harding, Wilson spent two years at the University of Virginia in a post-graduate fellowship program. He said the variety of chemistry he studied in his graduate programs has benefited his teaching career.
“I had to have a broad background (in chemistry) to be a good teacher,” Wilson said. “Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time.”
Wilson has been teaching physical science, physical chemistry and inorganic chemistry classes since arriving on campus in 1970. Wilson said he was originally hesitant to teach at a small private institution because of his colleagues’ experience with smaller universities and colleges.
“I was worried about the quality of students because of what my friends had told me,” Wilson said. “(But) I would put the students of Harding up against anybody. We have one of the best student bodies in the U.S.”
Wilson finds fulfillment in his research and class time with students as well as his time spent outside of the classroom.
“I’ve gotten a lot of satisfaction in working with students and taking them on trips,” Wilson said. “We’ve visited virtually every NASA facility from the West coast to the East coast.”
Along with NASA facility tours, Wilson takes students to the Arkansas University Research Conference, the Arkansas Space Grant Symposium, the Arkansas Academy of Science conference, in which he holds the vice presidency, as well as national conferences.
Wilson said when he first came to Harding he never had plans to leave, and that decision to stay has contributed to the careers of science majors for 45 years. Wilson’s legacy is one to be praised, admired and mimicked.