Professor Budalur S. Thyagarajan has left a remarkable and shining legacy in the history of the The University of Texas at San Antonio. From founding the Division of Earth and Physical Sciences to establishing Endowed scholarships, his passion and dedication to scholarly research and inspiring class room lectures have guided countless students in the pursuit of knowledge through scientific research and to professional careers in medicine, dentistry and chemistry.
Dr. Thyagarajan received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1956 from the University of Madras, India. His first visit to the United States was in 1956 as a postdoctoral research fellow at Northwestern University (1956-1958) followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin in Madison (1958-1959). Upon his return to India, he was offered a distinguished post at the University of Madras, and served there during the years 1960- 1968 as a Reader in organic chemistry.
While serving at the University of Madras, he was invited to the U.S. as a Visiting Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) during 1965-1966. During this visit, in addition to teaching a graduate course for the Doctoral students, he also wrote the first book on the Chemistry of Dimethyl Sulfoxide.
In the same period (1966), he was invited by Wiley – Interscience Publishers to edit TWO series on
MECHANISMS OF MOLECULAR MIGRATIONS AND SELECTIVE ORGANIC TRANSFORMATIONS
In 1967 Professor Thyagarajan was invited to preside over the First International Conference on the Chemistry of Dimethyl Sulfoxide held in Los Angeles (1967). Following this visit, he was invited back to the U.S. to accept the Senior professorship in Organic Chemistry at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. His immigration to the U.S. was championed by special efforts from the President of the National Academy of Sciences and by Senator Frank Church, Chairman of the Foreign Relations committee.
In the interim, Professor Thyagarajan was invited to serve as a Visiting Professor at the University of Hokkaido in Sapporo, Japan (1969). While at the University of Idaho, Professor Thyagarajan was invited to participate and deliver a lecture at the special U.S. – Japan Joint Sulfur Research Symposium held at Takarazuka in Japan (1971), as well as at the International Conference on Heterocyclic Chemistry held at Sendai, Japan (1971).
He was invited the same year (1971) to the U.K. as part of a U.S. Delegation from the D.O.D.
In 1974, Professor Thyagarajan was invited to join UTSA as the Founding Director of the Division of Earth and Physical Sciences. “I was given the opportunity to start not ONE, but THREE science programs--chemistry, physics and geology,” he said.
As Director, Professor Thyagarajan recruited faculty in all the three disciplines and developed the curricula, including the first ever undergraduate degree in polymer chemistry - unique in all of the U.S..
During the next two decades, Professor Thyagarajan was invited to Japan three different times to participate in Symposia In Sulfur Chemistry (1984, 1986, 1990), as well as at the International Sulfur Symposium held in Wales (1982).
In 1984 Professor Thyagarajan visited China as part of a China – U.S. scientific exchange program and delivered lectures at the University of Beijing and the University of Shanghai.
He retired from UTSA in 2000 and was appointed the FIRST emeritus professor in the College of Sciences.
Professor Thyagarajan is well-known among the scientific community both in print and in person. He is the author of more than 100 scientific papers and several books, and He has held positions in several Professional societies in Chemistry and related sciences.
He has served as Advisory Editor to the Russian Journal of Heterocyclic Chemistry (KHIMTYA GETEROTSIKLICHESKIKH SOEDINENII) and as advisory editor for the International Journal of PHOSPHOROUS, SULFUR and SILICON. Besides these, he has also served on the Editorial Boards of several international journals of chemistry.
Audiences around the world have greatly appreciated his invited lectures on Sulfur chemistry and Molecular Rearrangements.
Professor Thyagarajan is also recognized by several years of listing in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in Technology, Who is Who in the World, and American Men and Women of Science. In 1966, Professor Thyagarajan received the Intra Science Research Award while at the University of Southern California and in 1973 he received the Outstanding Educators of America Award. Internationally respected for his significant scientific contributions in chemistry, Professor Thyagarajan’s areas of research expertise cover reaction mechanisms, sulfur chemistry, High Energy materials, Heterocyclic chemistry, Natural products chemistry, and more.
He was awarded three different patents, one each for HMX, PCB and conducting polymers.
He has served as a consultant to different Government Agencies and Private Companies on the development of smokeless cigarettes (ATP), wastewater eliminations (the Pink Waters problem), and to the United States Army on High-Energy Materials.
Professor Thyagarajan invented the most efficient and least expensive process for the manufacture of the explosive HMX, which is stable at extremely high temperatures and is used as a high-energy propellant.
Besides these, Professor Thyagarajan also set aside time to offer a series of TV appearances at San Antonio’s KENS TV popularizing topics of chemistry applicable in daily life.
Amidst all these research activities, teaching has always been a passion for Professor Thyagarajan. He has mentored a number of students both in the classroom and in the laboratory—he taught courses in Organic Chemistry at all levels of undergraduate and graduate curriculum, and directed the work of several master’s and Doctoral degree candidates and Postdoctoral students. His Doctoral students have occupied academic positions around the world. His postdoctoral students also came from all around the world such as from England, Egypt, Greece, India, Japan, and Korea. His former students can be found in professional positions in medicine, science, business and education.
Professor Thyagarajan has drawn on members of his family for his inspiration in life. He was born and raised in the ancient town of Tiruvarur, India, offering powerful intellectual and philosophical influences.
His father had mastered Shakespeare’s works by heart and was a scholar of the classical studies in the Sanskrit language.
A follower of Mahathma Gandhi, Professor Thyagarajan’s father was jailed for nine months for participating in Gandhi’s legendary salt march to the Arabian Sea, a march that began the fight for India’s freedom.
On his last visit to Japan, Professor Thyagarajan delivered a lecture at the Osaka City University and, at the end of the talk, surrounded by faculty and graduate students, he casually remarked to an old friend that he was contemplating retiring from the university.
Following this, Professor Thyagarajan’s father assisted Mahathma Gandhi in establishing weaving and spinning centers in the villages of south India to teach the people self-help and self-sufficiency in simple life.
Professor Thyagarajan is a published poet in addition to being a scientist. Like poetry, science to Professor Thyagarajan is all about creativity and life. “The only things that you really see are what you have found with your mind.”
With the words of his grandmother as inspiration “Life is to give, not to take,” and devotion to the success of students at UTSA, Professor Thyagarajan established the Dr. Budalur S. Thyagarajan Endowed Scholarship for undergraduate students in chemistry, geology and physics upon his retirement in 2000. The awards enable qualified students to pursue higher education without worrying about finances.
A number of his friends from the U.S. and abroad have added to this Endowment having been inspired by Professor Thyagarajan to give to the university community through the scholarship fund.
Professor Thyagarajan has also established an Endowed scholarship called the Mrs. Parvathammal Scholarship for students in Geology.
One of the most significant contributions by Professor Thyagarajan to the community of San Antonio is the introduction of The Project Seed, intended to inspire rising seniors of high school into careers in science and medicine.
For 14 years, he personally visited the poorest neighborhood schools and recruited students coming from families with income below poverty line.
Every year, he spent 10 weeks with all of them as part of his research group at UTSA. Many of these students went on to acquire degrees in science and some even finished their doctorates. The project is now being continued under the auspices of the local section of the American Chemical Society.
One of the doctoral students was later asked to drive Professor Thyagarajan to a restaurant for a celebratory dinner.
The student, while driving, said, “Sensei, please don’t retire,” and somewhat surprised by the remark Professor Thyagarajan asked him how it mattered to him, when he was not directly affected in any manner.
The student responded, “Sensei, you are good for the students.”
That, it may be said, sums up the Life of Professor Thyagarajan as a true Professor.