Remarkable Alumni in Innovation


A Miner legacy
If you've ever tracked a storm on your smart phone, warmed milk in a plastic baby bottle, placed a phone call across the Atlantic or tried to spin a Hula-Hoop, you have benefited from the ingenuity of a fellow Rolla graduate. Many of the inventions and discoveries we now take for granted came about through the efforts of alumni. Here are a few of our most influential and innovative alumni from the early 20th century.

  Daniel C. Jackling, MetE 1892, has perhaps the most recognizable last name in our university's history. Jackling's name is known to many through Jackling Gym, which stood on campus for half a century (from 1915 to 1966). These days, he's familiar to high school students who enroll in the Jackling Intro to Engineering program, and to a core group of former athletes known as the "Jackling Jocks." But this metallurgist's enduring contribution to engineering occurred because he dared to think differently about mining. Just six years after graduation, he analyzed a low-grade copper deposit in Utah's Bingham Canyon that nobody in the business thought could ever be profitable. But Jackling saw an opportunity in open-pit mining, which was unheard of at the time, and in using steam shovels to load railroad cars. In 1903, he purchased the property, founded Utah Copper Co., and, under much criticism, began "Jackling's Folly." The copper began being used in new wiring and his folly proved to be lucrative as well as innovative. Inducted into the Mining Hall of Fame in 1988, Jackling was cited for recovering copper "so cheaply, it was hailed throughout the industry as a revolutionary achievement."

Another well-known name around campus is that of   Vachel H. McNutt, MinE 1910, MS MinE 1912. He taught geology on campus for a year before deciding that he was more suited to mineral exploration. In 1925, while wildcatting for oil near Carlsbad, N.M., he discovered a huge deposit of potash — the first such discovery in the western hemisphere. Prior to McNutt's discovery, U.S. farmers relied solely on foreign sources for this vital agricultural fertilizer. After his death in 1936, McNutt's widow, Amy Shelton McNutt, provided funding for scholarships and construction projects at S&T, including Thomas Jefferson Hall and the materials engineering building that bears her husband's name.

The son of a poor Iowa farmer,  Karl Hasselmann, MinE'25, became a pioneer in offshore oil exploration. As the founder of Salt Dome Oil Corp., Hasselmann developed the tools and techniques that led to oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. Once he found oil pools off the Texas coast, Hasselmann developed offshore drilling rigs to get out the black gold. Through his estate gift to the university, Hasselmann's legacy endures in the form of an endowed faculty position in geological engineering and the Hasselmann Alumni House now under development.

  Harry Kessler's love of boxing led him to the ring as a referee, but his engineering contributions led to victory in battles far more important than those Friday night Madison Square Garden bouts he refereed in the 1950s. Soon after graduation, while working at Banner Iron Works in St. Louis, Kessler, MetE'24, and another metallurgist developed a process to strengthen certain types of cast iron while lowering production costs. With this discovery, Kessler and his co-worker founded their own company, Sorbo-Mat Process Engineers. Kessler also developed high-strength metals and armor for Army tanks, an innovation that earned him the nickname "The Father of the Army Field Tank."

Thanks to  Mervin J. Kelly, Chem'14, callers around the world can reach out and touch someone. Working for AT&T Bell Laboratories in the 1920s, Kelly conducted basic research on vacuum tubes in radio communications. His research led to the world's first trans-oceanic phone call, a radiophone message on Jan. 7, 1927, between AT&T President Walter S. Gifford and Sir G. Evelyn P. Murray, secretary of the British post office. Before and during World War II, Kelly also helped develop another breakthrough communications technology: radar. His work on radar systems earned him the Presidential Certificate of Merit in 1947.

The next time you're watching the Weather Channel, you might want to thank   Harry Smith, EE'42, for equipping today's weather forecasters with more accurate weather-tracking methods. In 1953, Smith, an engineer for Westinghouse, was working on a way to improve existing radar techniques to better detect planes without interference from ground reflections. His work led to what became known as pulse-Doppler radar, a tool now commonly used for weather surveillance because it allows forecasters to detect the motion of precipitation in addition to a storm's intensity.

After earning his master's degree and doctorate in mining engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, James Scott, MinE'50, returned to Rolla in 1963 as an instructor at S&T. Thirteen years later, he took a sabbatical and never returned to the classroom. Instead, he invented a friction stabilizer roof bolt to support roofs in mines. His invention led him to found Scott Mine Technical Services Inc., which marketed this device and other mine roof-control fixtures. Scott's invention helped lead to greater safety for underground mines in the U.S. and abroad.

He started out as a florist, but Robert Herchenroeder, MetE'59, earned 36 U.S. patents in his lifetime. Herchenroeder pioneered using rare-earth materials to promote oxidation resistance in superalloys. He's credited with creating Haynes Alloy 188, which was used in military engines for the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 as well as the space shuttle; Haynes Alloy 556, which is the alloy of choice in many incinerator applications; and Haynes Alloy 214, which was developed for the bone china industry as a clean firing support material.

While studying catalysts to convert petroleum into liquid gasoline, Robert L. Bank, ChE'44, stumbled upon an idea that revolutionized plastics. A research chemist for Phillips Petroleum Co. at the time (1951), Banks experimented with the catalyst "and we came up with a solid product." That discovery — crystalline polypropylene — blossomed into an important process for the production of high-density polyethelyene. Banks' discovery led to a way to "make a much tougher high-density plastic at moderate pressures and temperatures," he said in a 1981 interview with Missouri S&T Magazine (then known as the MSM Alumnus). The result was a wide array of consumer products, including plastic milk jugs, baby bottles, laundry baskets, indoor-outdoor carpeting and the Hula-Hoop.