My parents both worked in factories. My dad was a welder and he worked in a non-unionized shop in Cleveland Ohio. My mom worked at the Polson Rubber Company in Garrettsville Ohio.
The first home I remember was in Mantua Ohio, which was much closer to my mom’s employment than to my dad’s. I was a big fish in a very small pond when I was growing up in school in the sense that I was usually the smartest kid in the class.
This small pond syndrome as I call it convinced me that I was smarter than I was. I now fully realize that there are people that are much smarter than I am. I have to really struggle to make my inventions. But I love doing it.
I realized while I was quite young that I had a great talent in science and technology. In other ways I am practically a functional idiot as you will see.
I married my high-school sweetheart even though I had ample evidence that we were not a good fit. Nonetheless, the two of us saved up our money and bought 26 acres of land in West Virginia to homestead.
This was after both Barbara and myself had one year of college although not contemporaneously. We bought 26 ½ acres a few miles south of Glenville West Virginia, right across the street from the Dew Drop Inn… and I’m not kidding about the name of the bar either.
It was while we were living in a back shed behind the retired couple who owned the house at the road just in front of the property that we bought that we met their neighbor, an 80 year old guy whose name I cannot remember. He took us to a Revival meeting, telling us it was a town party.
Actually it was my first Revival meeting. I was incredibly offended when I saw the pressure that the young people faced to be saved.
I thought of myself as going back to the land. At that point I had had a full year of college at Kent State University on an early admission scholarship. I did really well in chemistry but I basically flunked calculus, and in a way I ran away from college by joining the McGovern campaign during the spring 1972 semester.
There was a professor of political science who arranged for me get a 16-credit hour internship to work full-time on the George McGovern campaign in Akron Ohio. I worked myself to the bone and enjoyed every minute. We won that congressional district and even the state primary. Later I realized that in a sense we were helping Nixon’s re-election strategy. That really was what the Watergate break in was all about… George McGovern was favored by Nixon to be his opponent in that election.
Before McGovern came out from behind, everyone thought that Hubert Humphrey would be the nominee. I was proud of contributing to George McGovern’s primary election success. It was a great learning experience and my first real introduction to electoral politics. It was really a foundational experience that led me to run for office much later in life in Wisconsin’s 1992 Republican Primary Election for the US Senate, as you will see.
Barbara was the first of five wives. I am recently divorced from the mother of my son Rajeev. I think my first two marriages came from Catholic guilt. When I was a teenager, I believed in the Playboy Philosophy. (Which I picked up on from another freshman student at Kent State University, Paul Herlinger. Paul was older than me; he was 32 and I was 17 when we met, and I really took a lot of cues from him in that time frame.) In my guts though I felt bad about living with a woman and not being married.
My first job in the polymer industry was as a lab technician at the Polson Rubber Company factory in Garrettsville Ohio. That is the town I’d grown up in since the age of 14. My mother had worked at Polson Rubber for quite a while, She worked there while she was pregnant with me in fact.
I got that job at Polson Rubber after Barbara and I had bought the land in West Virginia and returned to Ohio to pay off the loan, which we did in fact.
Later we sold that land to get the money we needed to start the red radish restaurant in Kent Ohio. That vegetarian restaurant was an immediate success in 1974.
Later I got a job at BFGoodrich research and development center. One of the most important persons in my life is Carl Weber who was my boss at BFGoodrich R&D center.
We worked on epoxy adhesives, mainly aircraft adhesives for Boeing and other companies, but we also did work on two part liquid epoxies as well.
Carl was one of my mentors and I learned from him what it is to truly formulate and to think out-of-the-box on that sort of thing.
Mixing can be just as important as the formulation ingredients; this is one of the main things I learned from Carl. There are numerous techniques that can be used to create amazing metastable materials that when they cure and undergo phase separation, they break up into discrete phase particles. This process is extremely important for creating adhesives that are both strong and tough.
Interfacial tension plays a very important role as anyone who has ever formulated high impact strength epoxies or dynamic vulcanizate thermoplastic elastomers for example.
Carl is an out of the box thinker, and he invented things that have never been manufactured that would still be breakthroughs today.
One of the thoughts I have for Rethink Technologies is to help people like Carl get their inventions out into the real world. I would also want them to receive realistic, proportional benefits for this.
Before I joined BFGoodrich R&D, I had already been thinking about doing polymer science although I was thinking mainly about doing cross-linking chemistry.
Cross-linking chemistry remained a very important feature of my entire professional life up to the point where I shifted my attention to development of long distance transmission technology, in support of a future super grid which I still think is the most important single energy technology to get us off our addiction to fossil fuel.
My work as a lab tech for Carl Weber led to me becoming fascinated with the process that I came to call reaction wave polymerization, which later became my PhD dissertation topic.
After the Red Radish, my marriage to Barbara fell apart and I returned to Akron University to study chemical engineering. I was living with my second wife Judy while I was studying chemical engineering. We got married after I graduated and went to work for BFGoodrich Tire Company as a tire engineer trainee. The things I learned about tires during that job have helped me greatly in understanding the underlying mechanisms for my Conformal Vest Ventilator.
I went into chemical engineering in order to pursue one of my inventions, an improved design of the icemaker heat pump (which is relevant for moving air conditioning load from daytime to nighttime). I presented papers on this idea at the ISChE Student Chapter conferences 2 years in a row while at Akron University. I later presented a paper on this idea at a renewable energy conference in Tucson Arizona in 1979. This has been a pattern throughout my life; my inventions cause me to pursue particular educational opportunities.
I left grad school early without having filed my dissertation. I had done several published articles that could have been the basis for a PhD dissertation.
One of these papers is an experimental study of dual cross-linked elastomer networks, in which two different cross-linking systems were employed. After the first crosslinking, the elastomer was highly elongated, followed by cross-linking by a second independent crosslinking system. These type of elastomers have special properties that are useful in my most recent invention, the conformal vest ventilator
I also gave a paper describing reaction wave polymerization (RWP) at an International Society for Chemical Engineers conference at Carnegie Melon in Pittsburgh PA, which was later republished in a Polymer Process Engineering Journal. This was my dissertation topic for my PhD in polymer science.
While I was in grad school at the University of Akron Polymer Science Department, I also published a paper that was about transporting natural gas in blimps. Methane is less dense than air by a large enough factor that you can create more lift than is possible for a hot air balloon, but of course much less lift than if you use helium or hydrogen.
I wrote a paper about that, looking at it from many points of view in the journal Speculations in Science and Technology. That paper cited a study of this possibility by the Shell Oil Company of that idea in 1973.
The key problem with this concept is that in order to be economical you need to transport vast amounts of natural gas and if one of those blimps catch fire it would be similar to the effect of a huge fuel air bomb in terms of the amount of radiant energy impinging on the ground below.
It would have less impact if such an accident occurred quite high above the ground, but it is unavoidable that such massive bags of fuel would have to be brought down low in order to pick up or deliver their cargo.
That paper on transportation of natural gas in neutral buoyant aircraft wound up helping me a lot much later in life when I met Robert French because I made a comment on a website mentioning the idea of transporting stranded natural gas in southern Algeria to gas pipelines in the northern part of Algeria where at the time natural gas was being flared to the atmosphere so that they could get the oil.
Robert French had been working with the company in England that was still promoting that idea all those years later (this was in 2010 I think), headed by the person that wrote that 1973 Shell Oil report. Me being aware of that prior work gave me instant credibility with an incredible player in the world of entrepreneurship. Robert is one of those itinerant expat english engineers who moves around from project to project all around the world.
I returned to Akron a few years after graduate school, after a period in which I worked on thermoplastic elastomers for the West Company at two different locations in Pennsylvania.
During my time at the West Company, I developed some real breakthroughs for thermoplastic elastomer formulation and chemistry.
Jackie became pregnant while I was in grad school. Her parents helped us out financially so I could continue in grad school for another year and a half after Shana was born.
I was in love with Shana from the first I was aware that Jackie was pregnant. I used to put my head on her belly and talk to Shana before she was born.
I was in a hurry to get out of grad school and start making money and as a result I took a job at the West Company, a major provider of various kinds of medical rubber equipment including syringes, baby bottle nipples, vial stoppers, IV bags, and Vacutainers which they invented.
My job at that company was to develop thermoplastic elastomers for use in pharmaceutical devices. My first projects involved baby bottle nipples, syringe plunger tips, and vial stoppers.
This was before the age of all that stuff being disposable. I had to pass a test for autoclave compression set resistance and simultaneously puncture resistance for repeated punctures by a needle. No thermoplastic elastomer had previously passed both of these tests. I developed formulations that did and which had much lower gas permeability than a natural rubber vial stopper. I succeeded in passing all the tests needed for vial stoppers and syringe plunger tips.
After I left, West Company filed several patents on my inventions that did not put my name on them. What they did is illegal and I would have invalidated the patents if I had noticed during the time those patents we’re still in force.
I still remain a very significant inventor in the field of dynamically vulcanized thermoplastic elastomers. I believe I am the world’s greatest expert in this field to be specific. After my period of developing thermoplastic elastomers for the West Company,I also did significant work on dynamically vulcanized fluoroelastomer/fluoroplastic mixtures.
The reason I left the West Company is because they decided not to manufacture the products developed. I finally learned that they saw the thermoplastic elastomer development as primarily a defensive research project.
My boss, Hank White and I were true believers, but the upper management never really took thermoplastic elastomers very seriously.
The most significant aspect of my research was that it was not possible to use any of the commercially available thermoplastic elastomer formulations to meet the difficult specs on autoclave compression set.
West Company management figured if they kept the fact secret that these medical rubber goods could be made from thermoplastic elastomers they could go on selling their medical rubber products at a high profit. If some manufacturer like Shell or Monsanto would have developed formulations that work for these medical goods there would have been a hundred new competitors capable of injection molding those thermoplastic parts. There were only two major competitors in the pharmaceutical rubber market at that point in time. Therefore thermoplastic elastomers represented an existential threat to the core business of the West Company. I do understand why they took the actions they did.
All my work on tires, adhesives, and thermoplastic elastomers are completely applicable to the Conformal Vest Ventilator.