Physics Program Receives Largest Estate Gift in LVC History

Dr. Elizabeth Miller Bains ’64

Lebanon Valley College Physics and Engineering Physics majors will benefit for years to come from the generosity of a renowned alumna who helped create training simulation software for astronauts, including Sally Ride.

Former NASA scientist Dr. Elizabeth Miller Bains ’64 and her husband, Dr. James A. Bains Jr., bequeathed nearly $6.2 million to LVC’s Physics Program. The gift will support:

  • Increased stipends for student-faculty research in the Physics Program, including Research First, an opportunity for first-year students to conduct research alongside faculty in the summer before they arrive on campus.
  • A new faculty position in Engineering Physics, a new major starting in Fall 2024 that merges fundamental Physics with the design of engineering systems, processes, and devices.
  • The construction of a new Engineering Physics lab and research space and purchasing teaching and research lab equipment.
  • Conference travel for students and faculty to give research presentations at regional, national, and international conferences.
  • The Dr. Elizabeth M. Bains ’64 Professorship in Physics and The Dr. James A. Bains Jr. Professorship in Physics.

“Elizabeth left an extraordinary and historic academic and scientific legacy at her alma mater,” said Dr. James MacLaren, LVC president. “Now, her and James’ generosity will ensure that countless current and future LVC Physics majors aspire to her achievements.”

“As an alum of LVC who benefited from student-faculty research during my time as a Physics and Mathematics double major, I am excited about our ability to further enhance the high-impact experiences of our students and offer new pathways through the Engineering Physics major,” said Dr. Dan Pitonyak, Assistant Professor and Chair of Physics. “The Bains’ overwhelming generosity is a testament to the importance and value they placed on student-faculty activities in Physics in a liberal arts environment, and we look forward to carrying on that legacy.”


About LVC’s Physics Program 

Lebanon Valley College’s Physics and Mathematical Sciences faculty have been awarded over $1.4 million in National Science Foundation grants since 2006. Their areas of expertise include computational nuclear physics to understand the three-dimensional internal structure of visible matter, fabricating crystals in glass using a laser as a potentially useful method as optical interconnects in photonic integrated circuits, and quantum information science that studies the “quantum advantage” of entangled particles that can outperform the most powerful existing supercomputers. Majors in Engineering Physics, Physics (with an optional concentration in Computational Physics), and Secondary Education Teacher Certification in Physics are available.


About Dr. Bains

After graduating from LVC, Dr. Bains became a U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory physicist for one year before earning her master’s and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Tennessee. She then became an assistant professor of physics at Alcorn State University in Mississippi, where she taught for three years before becoming a senior engineer at Lockheed Engineering Management & Services. In 1988, Dr. Bains joined NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston as an aerospace engineer and, in 1990, was appointed deputy branch chief, simulation systems, a position from which she retired in 2013.

At NASA, Dr. Bains helped create the software for the computer simulators used to train America’s astronauts. She was also in charge of analyzing how to assemble the International Space Station. In 2003, her primary focus was to develop procedures to repair damaged shuttle tiles while in space to prevent another shuttle from exploding on re-entry.

In addition to receiving several NASA Team Awards, Dr. Bains was a multiple recipient of NASA’s National Exceptional Achievement Medal (1995, 1996, 2005). She was awarded the 2005 medal for leading the effort to upgrade robotic simulations and analyze plans to use the Orbitor and Space Station arms in new ways for the Shuttle Return to Flight.

Her extraordinary work was also recognized by the astronauts with whom she worked. In 1990, she received the Silver Snoopy Award, which best symbolizes the intent and spirit of Space Flight Awareness. An astronaut always presents the Silver Snoopy because it is the astronauts’ award for outstanding performance, contributing to flight safety, and mission success. Fewer than one percent of the aerospace program workforce receives it annually.

Dr. Bains always praised the opportunity she had to earn a liberal arts education and credits LVC for the excellent education she received in physics, language, and writing. She remained a loyal alumna, returning as a guest lecturer and contributing financially to numerous programs, including The Rhodes and O’Donnell Endowed Physics Research Fund in honor of her former faculty mentors. Her generosity was recognized when she became a Lifetime Vickroy Associate, the prestigious group of donors who have demonstrated their lasting commitment to support LVC by giving $100,000 or more to the College during their lifetime and being active figures in their communities.

In 1995, Dr. Bains received an Alumni Citation from LVC, followed by a Professional Achievement Award in 2005. In 2015, she received the College’s most prestigious alumni award, the Distinguished Alumna Award. In 2014, in preparation for LVC’s 150th Anniversary, Dr. Bains participated in the oral history project.

Dr. Bains maintained lifelong friendships with LVC faculty and families, including Dr. Agnes O’Donnell (professor emerita of English), Bob O’Donnell (professor emeritus of physics), Dr. Jake Rhodes (professor emeritus of physics), Dr. Art Ford (professor emeritus of English), and Mary Ellen Ford (former co-director of Kreiderheim).

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