Dick Vitek: Chemist, entrepreneur and crusader

Dick Vitek, MS Chem’58, started his career as a research chemist — an archetypal scientist in a white lab coat mixing substances and studying the results. He worked for the Atomic Energy Commission producing uranium from ore. Then, as a scientist with Allied Chemical Co., he developed solid oxidizers for rockets and missiles for the U.S. space program’s Advanced Research Projects Agency — a project that led to his first patent.

richard_vikek-094

Photo by Steven B. Williams

But it wasn’t until he went to work for Aldrich Chemical Co. that he found he had a talent for something else: business development. As the national sales and marketing director for Aldrich, he grew the company’s chemical sales exponentially — and learned a great deal about running a business.

In the late 1970s, Vitek founded three startups, including FOTODYNE, the first company to manufacture lab instruments for DNA research. “I was reading a chemistry journal and came across an article on how DNA is visualized under UV radiation,” says Vitek, who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Albion College. “I knew I could build an instrument that would illuminate and photograph DNA.”

From that kernel of an idea grew a company that became a pioneer in molecular imaging. But the entrepreneur and crusader in Vitek didn’t stop there. Working with the U.S. Coast Guard, Vitek developed UV imaging instruments capable of analyzing oil spills to identify the tankers responsible. He then developed a method of testing arsenic levels in wine that made headlines and eventually led the Environmental Protection Agency to impose stricter limits on pesticide use in U.S. vineyards.

Vitek retired as chair and chief executive officer of FOTODYNE in 2002. He continues to make a difference through many philanthropic endeavors, including his support of the Vitek Institute for Robotic Surgery at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif. At Missouri S&T, his legacy includes an endowed chair in biochemistry and a graduate fellowship in analytical chemistry. He is also a past president of the Board of Trustees and trustee emeritus, and co-founder of the S&T Foundation for Chemical Research.

Photo by Steven B. Williams

Photo by Steven B. Williams

Although Vitek says his greatest satisfaction comes from his contributions to environmental issues, he also cites FOTODYNE’s educational division, which offers teacher workshops, equipment loan programs and other resources dedicated to encouraging the next generation of molecular biologists.

“What is more important than imparting knowledge to others seeking it?”

“What is more important than imparting knowledge to others seeking it?” he asks.

Around the Puck

Generous partners complete ACML fundraising

Thanks to an investment from the University of Missouri System, major gifts from industry partners and alumni support, S&T will break ground on the Advanced Construction and Materials Laboratory (ACML) on Oct. 12, during Homecoming weekend.

[Read More...]

Alumni help with sesquicentennial planning

Seven alumni, including three Miner Alumni Association board members, have been named to Missouri S&T’s sesquicentennial advisory committee. The group is made up of graduates, students, faculty, staff and community members who are involved in planning the university’s upcoming 150th anniversary celebration.

[Read More...]

Using big data to reduce childbirth risks

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, complications during pregnancy or childbirth affect more than 50,000 women annually, and about 700 of them die every year. Steve Corns, associate professor of engineering management and systems engineering, is working with researchers from Phelps County Regional Medical Center through the Ozarks Biomedical Initiative to reduce […]

[Read More...]

Bogan solves Benton mural mystery

Missouri State Capitol muralist Thomas Hart Benton wrote in his memoir about being called into then-Gov. Guy Park’s office and told that a prominent St. Louis politician objected to Benton’s portrayal of black people, especially depictions of slavery.

[Read More...]

Breaking bias

According to Jessica Cundiff, assistant professor of psychological science at S&T, women who consider careers in the physical sciences, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are deterred by stereotypes that impose barriers on the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in STEM.

[Read More...]