Distinguished Alumni


Reitze David Headshot June2016David H. Reitze - Physicist, Educator, and Wave Maker

Dr. David H. Reitze is the Executive Director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO); a research professor at the California Institute of Technology; and a professor of physics at the University of Florida.

Dr. Reitze received his undergraduate degree at Northwestern University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and with department honors in Physics in 1983. He earned his Ph.D. in Physics from The University of Texas at Austin in 1990. Dr. Reitze received an Outstanding Dissertation Award in 1991 for his research on the properties of liquid carbon. He spent two years as a postdoctoral member of the technical staff at Bell Communications Research and one year at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory before joining the faculty of the University of Florida as an assistant professor of physics.  

For the last five years, he has directed the LIGO Laboratory, a group of nearly 200 scientists and engineers from Caltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who designed, built and operates the LIGO Observatories in Hanford, WA and Livingston, LA.  He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America, and he is a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. In 2016, he announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves from a pair of colliding black holes, one of the most significant and stunning scientific results of the past decade.  


Distinguished Service


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Iris B. Apfel - Fashion Mogul, Collector, and Icon

Iris B. Apfel studied art history at New York University and attended art school at the University of Wisconsin. Early in her career, she worked for Women’s Wear Daily and interior designer Elinor Johnson.

In 1950, she and her husband Carl Apfel founded the textiles firm Old World Weavers, which they ran together until 1992. Their many high-profile projects included restoration work at the White House for nine administrations: Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton. The Apfels’ search for rare and unusual textiles took them all over the world, and it was during these travels that Ms. Apfel began collecting non-Western artisanal clothing and jewelry. She became known in high-society circles for her bold sense of style, and in the fall of 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute premiered an exhibition about her titled, “Rara AvisThe Irreverent Iris Apfel.” The success of the exhibition propelled her into fame and made her into a cultural icon. Since then, she has been a mainstay in ads for companies such as MAC Cosmetics, Kate Spade, Macy’s, and Citroen automobiles. She has a successful line of clothing on the Home Shopping Network (HSN) and was the subject of the 2015 documentary Iris, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Albert Maysles.

In 2011, Iris came to The University of Texas at Austin, where she became a visiting professor in the Textiles & Apparel Division of the School of Human Ecology. Each May she leads the UT in NYC program, where students spend a week in the fashion capitol of the world visiting with industry leaders.


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The Welch Foundation - Chemistry Research Advocates and University Benefactor

The Welch Foundation was created from an endowment by Texas oilman and philanthropist, Robert Alonzo Welch, and has grown into one of the nation's largest sources of private funding for basic research in chemistry. For more than 60 years, the Foundation has supported chemistry in Texas through research grants and a variety of other programs.

Following the dictates of Mr. Welch’s will, the Foundation remains true to its mission of supporting fundamental scientific exploration that ultimately helps improve our world. The Foundation is guided by a board of directors, a scientific advisory board and professional staff all committed to building a robust scientific community in Texas that advances basic scientific knowledge.


Emerging Leader Award


NRConley headshot web Nicholas R. Conley - Innovator, Biochemist, and Executive

Dr. Nicholas R. Conley is CEO & Co-Founder of EpiBiome, a venture-backed startup based in South San Francisco whose mission is to curb the growing threat of multi-drug resistant “superbugs” by eliminating the use of shared-class antibiotics in agriculture.  

Dr. Conley spent several years doing undergraduate research at The University of Texas at Austin where he authored several publications and won numerous awards, including the UT Co-Op George H. Mitchell Award, the Dorothy B. Banks Scholarship, the Chemistry & Biochemistry Authors’ Scholarship, the Linus Pauling Award, and the American Chemical Society Outstanding Senior Award. He graduated in 2003 with a B.S. in Chemistry. In 2004, he won a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and went on to pursue a graduate degree in Chemistry at Stanford University. In 2010, Dr. Conley did his post-doctoral research in Stanford University’s School of Medicine.

Before founding EpiBiome, Dr. Conley developed next-generation hard disk drive (HDD) technologies as a Research Staff Member at HGST (formerly Hitachi Global Storage Technologies), a Western Digital Company. He has published 17 peer-reviewed journal articles and holds several patents. He also has founded several skin care and oral health companies. During his free time, he enjoys competing in triathlons and spending time with his basset hound.

While the 2016 Hall of Honor Award nominations are closed, we accept nominations year-round. For descriptions of each award and information on how to nominate an individual for next year, click here.