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2011 Distinguished Alumnus: David Montgomery

David Montgomery (BS ’68, PhD ’82 Physics) was selected as the College’s 2011 Distinguished Alumnus. Established in 1990, the PAMS Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes alumni whose exceptional achievements in business, education, research or public service have brought honor and distinction to PAMS and NC State.

A North Carolina native, Montgomery comes from a “true red” Wolfpack family. Upon graduating from High Point Central High School in 1964, he followed in the footsteps of his older brother and father by enrolling at NC State. He continues to serve his alma mater to this day through ongoing service on the PAMS Foundation Board of Directors as well as financial contributions to the college, the Department of Physics and The Science House.

Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree from NC State in 1968, Montgomery was honored as a Distinguished Military Graduate of the Army ROTC program and was commissioned with the rank of second lieutenant in the Ordnance Corps of the United States Army. He received an active duty delay to begin his graduate studies, where he had the opportunity to study under two legendary physicists, Willard Bennett and Wesley Doggett.
Under the direction of Bennett and, later, Doggett, Montgomery learned the ins and outs of plasma physics. He also provided outstanding service to PAMS and the university in various teaching assistantships and research positions, both on campus and – for two summers – at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

As Montgomery, himself, recently recalled of this experience, “One of the most fortunate occurrences in my life was having these two gentlemen as mentors.”

When his four-year military delay expired, Montgomery left campus for the Ordnance Corps’ Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to satisfy his active-duty requirement. He then served as an instructor for the U.S. Army Reserve School and the North Carolina National Guard in the area of wheel and track vehicle mechanics, reaching the rank of captain before retirement.

By the time he earned his PhD from NC State in 1983, Montgomery had already been working for four years as a plasma physicist at Becton Dickinson and Company in Research Triangle Park. His early work at what is now known as BD used low-temperature, ionized gas processes to physically and chemically alter the surfaces of disposable polystyrene tissue culture products – products such as petri dishes – so that cells would properly attach and colonize on the surfaces.

Montgomery designed and built a laboratory of custom apparatus directed toward the research and development of commercially viable processes that could mimic the glass surfaces on which tissue culture had traditionally been done and also to develop and analyze new surface chemistries that allowed the culturing of cells that previously required protein-based substrates. Much of his work over the subsequent three decades has been in adapting these basic processes into new applications and products.

The results continue to be impressive, and he has been recognized for them within BD, nationally and even internationally. His work has led to 15 U.S. patents and 5 European patents. In 2001, he received BD’s Wesley J. Howe Award for Process Development Excellence for his work in the creation of a process required for the functioning of a bacterial identification and antibiotic susceptibility test panel. In 2010, he received the company’s Wesley J. Howe Award for Lifetime Achievement for his entire body of work. He is one of seven recipients of the award out of some 28,000 BD employees around the world.

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