Lost Blood in Boston
CHAPTER 21 - Retirement? Not Yet!
The azaleas, dogwood and cherry trees have been in bloom here in New Jersey - it's a beautiful time of the year. And all is well again in the "physical" world after a period of uncertainty. "Adieu, Superluminal Neutrinos" - that's the headline of an item in the March 23 issue of Science describing an experiment that appears to seal the demise of the claim by the so-called OPERA team in Italy's Gran Sasso National Laboratory that neutrinos have traveled faster than the speed of light. Now another team, the ICARUS team at Gran Sasso, has announced that they have found that neutrinos travel at the speed of light, not above it. The OPERA team says that this is consistent with their speculation that a loose cable connection may have caused the earlier finding. The April 6 issue of Science reports that two of the leaders of the OPERA collaboration have stepped down after a vote of no confidence by others in the group. Einstein wins again.
Back to my memoirs, in last month's column it was March of 1989 and I had just retired at the age of 61 from Bell Labs. My management was generous in that I was allowed to keep a desk in my old area for several months and I also was granted possession of my computer, both of which lessened the pain of this unexpectedly early retirement. But what really changed my life was a suggestion from Bertram Schwartz, a Bell Labs colleague and a fellow active member of The Electrochemical Society (ECS). Bert was interacting with Rutgers University in setting up an electronics facility on the Busch Campus of Rutgers in Piscataway, New Jersey and he suggested I contact Rutgers. He also put me in touch with Professor Alvin Salkind, another ECS member, who had joint appointments at Rutgers and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. These two campuses adjoined one another in Piscataway.
Thanks to Bert, I found myself scheduled to teach a graduate course at Rutgers on semiconductor materials and devices in the fall of 1989. I had not worked in the semiconductor field for some 17 years and this was not going to be an easy job! Fortunately, thanks to still having a desk at Bell Labs, I happened to run into Simon Sze, a physicist who had written books on semiconductor devices. He said he had recently published a new version of his book "VLSI Technology", which brought up to date the field of Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI), the field involving integrated circuits, the silicon chip, etc. I spent the summer of 1989 struggling through this comprehensive book and also another of Sze's books, "Semiconductor Devices. Physics and Technology".
Armed with my up-to-date "expertise" in the semiconductor field and with the two copies of Sze's books, I faced my first class. I knew I was in trouble when the first student to arrive says, "I see you have Sze's Semiconductor Devices book." He wasn't the only student familiar with the book, it turned out. I started out by asking the students if they knew about a number of the items I had planned to cover in that first lecture. "Oh yeah, we had that in our engineering class" was a typical response. Those of you who watched Johnny Carson on his late night TV show may remember how, when his material bombed, he would do a dance routine to cover it up. Well, I danced my way through that first lecture and through probably the next two lectures. The students obviously already knew much of what I had planned to cover.
Fortunately, the situation improved when I got into the more chemically related aspects of the materials end of the semiconductor game. None of the students were familiar with those concepts. Slanting the course towards the chemistry, I finally was comfortable. Hopefully, the students did learn some useful material. For the final take-home exam in the course, I thought one of my questions was pretty unique. I told them to imagine themselves shipwrecked on a desert island. The island had a very small volcano that could be used like a furnace to heat stuff to high temperatures and a trunk had washed on shore with essentially a chemistry set of various key elements. I may have told them that some batteries had also washed ashore. What would they do to fabricate devices that would allow them to contact the outside world or signal passing ships to call attention to their plight? I wish I had kept their responses but some of the students were pretty ingenious and I remember one who said he had actually found a crystal pulling machine on the ship, which had also washed ashore!
In addition to teaching the course, I had also settled into Al Salkind's group at the medical school. Salkind had been a vice president of Electric Storage Battery Company, later broken up into Exide, Ray-O-Vac and others. At Robert Wood Johnson, Salkind's group shared a trailer with a Professor Guzelsu, who specialized in bone repair. In Salkind's group were two of his former associates at Exide, Jack Kelly and Jake Ockerman and a survivor of the Holocaust, Charles Grun. Charlie was a very upbeat fellow who ran and engaged in other physical activities, always prodding us to do more to keep in shape. Sadly, some years after I joined the group, he died one morning after or during his run.
Jack Kelly proved to be a game changer in my life when he introduced me to John Van Dine, a young entrepreneur who had just started a new venture he called Sun Active Glass Electrochromics (SAGE). John, who had experience working with large area silicon solar arrays, decided that he could apply his expertise to making so-called "smart windows". The smart window he envisioned was a essentially a large area thin film lithium battery in which lithium ions shuttled back and forth between two different compounds on charge and discharge. One of the compounds would be nearly transparent without lithium in it but would darken, turning a deep blue or gray when lithium was introduced into the structure. The large area battery structure would be mounted between two panes of glass to form the smart window. With my experience in lithium batteries, I was an obvious choice to consult on the development of these smart windows. For me, it was exciting to think that someday there might be skyscrapers in which most of the external surfaces would be covered with lithium batteries!
Van Dine's company was headquartered first in Valley Cottage, New York and later moved down to Rutgers, Van dine's alma mater, to take advantage of the expertise of other members of the Rutgers community. While consulting for SAGE, I was involved in writing proposals to obtain funding, initially from a new program instituted by the Commerce Department through the National Institute of Science and Technology's Advanced Technology Program. In my time with SAGE, possibly my most significant contribution was recommending the hiring of a graduate student who had just obtained his PhD from Rutgers, Vijay Parkhe. Vijay was a very bright, hardworking guy who helped SAGE immensely in its initial smart window venture.
NIST's ATP program was set up to promote the development and ultimate manufacture of new technologies and I was proud that our first proposal, put together by the three of us (Van Dine, Parkhe and I) in only a month after getting together, gathered good comments from the program evaluators. It might have been funded except for the fact that they did not feel that SAGE had the wherewithal, money or facilities, to manufacture a product successfully and suggested that we needed a partner. Van Dine then sought out such a partner and found one in the guise of 3M in Minneapolis. When SAGE submitted a joint proposal with 3M, ATP funded the program. In Minneapolis, Van Dine also found another partner who accepted his proposal, this to be his wife! Julie was in the area of 3M that put proposals in their final form with impressive layouts etc. John and Julie made a very good looking couple. My wife told me that John was the handsomest fellow she'd ever met!
In addition to consulting for SAGE, I was also engaged in teaching short courses on batteries with Salkind and Kelly. We taught a number of these courses at Fort Monmouth for the Army and for the Navy at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. I was also contacted by the Center for Professional Advancement in nearby New Brunswick, which specialized in short courses on a variety of subjects. I agreed to be the director of a course on batteries and convinced Salkind and Kelly to join me. We gave our first courses in New Brunswick but later agreed to CPA's request to give courses yearly in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
In past columns, I've talked about a number of trips to scientific meetings that have had certain unusual aspects to them. A meeting that I won't forget was a meeting of the Materials Research Society in Boston in December of 1990. I thought it odd that, when I took a shower in my hotel room, the water had an odor that smelled like clams! But, Boston is on a body or bodies of water. At the meeting I had dinner most nights late, and typically had red wine with the meal, finishing off the meals with real coffee, not decaffeinated. The maid also left chocolate mints on the pillow, which I consumed on the spot - the mints, not the pillow. One evening there was a vendor's exhibit where one vendor gave out free Hershey bars of the size I knew as a child - big ones. You may wonder why I'm going into detail with all these food and drink choices.
Well, when I got home that Friday night, I was saddened to learn that a very good friend of ours had passed away while I was at the meeting and the funeral was on Saturday morning. That morning I felt somewhat weak but attributed it to lack of sleep and the sad news. Sunday morning, I awoke, again feeling rather weak but felt better as the day wore on. That Monday I came downstairs and told my wife I really felt crummy and she should call the rescue squad. As she was calling, I fainted and was taken to the hospital, where I ended up in intensive care for five days, having lost half my blood! I was transfused with five pints of blood! The cause of the internal bleeding was never determined, but looking back at all the late-hour caffeine-containing chocolates and coffee and the red wine, could they have been the cause? Or, did they perhaps aggravate a condition initiated by drinking water that smelled like clams? I'll never know but ever since I've not drunk coffee after lunch and, as with many senior citizens, dinner is either early or nonexistent!
Next column will be posted, hopefully, on or before June 1.
Allen F. Bortrum