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Bio alumnus, Nobel Peace Prize recipient revisits Purdue, gives talk


Will Carpenter

Dr. Will Carpenter visits Rawls Hall before his talk in Krannert.

Dr. Will Carpenter’s rise from washing slides and test tubes at a Mississippi venereal disease laboratory for $1.25 a day to being a key member of Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons, was an amazing ride for the Purdue Biological Sciences alumnus.

Carpenter, 85, shared numerous stories to a crowd of College of Science faculty, students and community members Nov. 11 at Krannert Auditorium. Those stories included his service during the Korean War (where he was sleeping in a cave just three weeks before starting his Purdue career), his years at Purdue where he earned a graduate degree and PhD in 1956 and 1958, respectfully, his success while working for Monsanto and the unprecedented work with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which helped destroy more than 80 percent of the planet’s chemical weapons. The organization was established in 1978. Carpenter and his team of only five other scientists worked with the U.S. government as liaisons to the science and chemical industry worlds for 25 years. This was accomplished mostly while Carpenter was still employed at Monsanto, helping develop the popular weed-killing product Roundup.

“We were not given extra time to meet and we did not cost the government one penny,” said Carpenter with pride. “We became not only a resource to the United States; we became a resource to the United Nations and NATO. It was a wonderful experience.”

Prior to the creation of the organization, he was involved in the effort to establish a chemical weapons treaty that culminated in the conclusion of the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997. Carpenter served as the U.S. representative to and co-chair of its science advisory board.

Carpenter has lived in Chesterfield, Missouri, ever since his Monsanto days, which he retired from in 1992. He last visited Purdue when he was given an Honorary Doctorate Award in 1999 from the College of Science.

One of Carpenter’s favorite stories was about how he and a few colleagues were the first to move their offices into the then new Lilly Hall. One of those colleagues was Al Chiscon, now a Purdue professor emeritus of Biological Sciences but then a fellow Bio grad student with Carpenter.

Since then, Purdue's campus has changed dramatically and his former program in Bio has made tremendous leaps in world-changing research. Lilly Hall is still home base for Biological Sciences but it has since expanded into the Bindley Bioscience Center and Hockmeyer Hall of Structural Biology.

“When I first showed up at Purdue in 1954 fresh out of the army,” Carpenter recalled, “my first impression was that I was in absolute awe of this place. I mean I was overcome. It sent a jillion thoughts through my mind. Virtually every time I’ve been up here since then, I’m still always in awe of this university. Today, I’m still in awe of this university.”

Carpenter’s visit back to campus and his talk was made possible by the College of Science, Krannert School of Management and College of Agriculture.

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