A 2019 CFAES Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, Floyd Poruban was the first blind person to be admitted to and graduate from a science program at Ohio State.
He had begun studying horticulture in 1957—decades before the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990—during an era when few educational opportunities were available to blind people.
Poruban made scientific discoveries on the way to earning a BS in horticulture and an MS in plant pathology at Ohio State. He then opened his own nursery, which has been in business for 55 years.
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The 2020 CFAES Alumni Awards luncheon
is March 7 in Columbus.
He believes he has overcome numerous challenges—both socially and scientifically—with determination and tenacity, and he continues to thrive. “When you have a problem, you don’t sit around, because then the problem just gets bigger,” he said. “You have to keep moving forward.”
Or keep moving upward, as was the case during his undergraduate studies. Just like the rest of the male horticulture students at Ohio State, Poruban learned to climb trees with a rope and saddle.
Also, all horticulture students had to be able to identify 1,000 types of plants in Kenneth W. Reisch’s course. Poruban was no exception.
One day, students were having trouble distinguishing an American cranberrybush from a European cranberrybush. Though the plants were virtually identical, Poruban could tell the difference by touch, noting that one bush had sticky flowers while the other bush had dry flowers.
“The instructor just shook his head. ‘That’s not in the book,’ he said.”
After that class, Reisch studied the archives in the United States and in Europe, and he consulted with other professors. “When he did finish all his investigating, they ended up putting it in the book,” Poruban said.
He paid for grad school by working as an assistant in the university’s new plant disease clinic, where he mixed agar media and poured it into thousands of petri dishes that were used in the clinic to grow disease samples.
For his graduate research, Poruban studied crown gall, a common plant disease formed by an agrobacterium. Trying to decipher how the disease progressed was frustrating work, he said, until a chance meeting with Wernher von Braun. The former Nazi scientist who later worked for the U.S. Army and NASA suggested that Poruban use a high-powered ultracentrifuge in his research.
Poruban is now credited as the first person to isolate the “tumor-inducing-principle” that later came to be known as the Ti plasmid from an agrobacterium in a plant system, work he conducted for his master’s thesis at Ohio State.
“Science is in the mind, not the hands or eyes,” Poruban said.