Letters to the editor: Fall/Winter 2016

Accounts of my death have been greatly exaggerated. In the April 1987 MSM Alumnus on page 33 it was reported that I had passed away. Other than me being dead, all of the other details were correct. I have enclosed a copy of the front page of the Alumnus and page 33 for your review. I have just retired from the city of University Park after 27 years and hope to enjoy many more years in retirement. I thought it was time to correct the record.

Robert E. “Bob” Whaling, CE’73
Plano, Texas


I have just completed reading from cover to cover the latest Missouri S&T Magazine, and I especially enjoy the stories of the current S&T collaborative projects and how these help give students some practical experience. During my visit to Rolla for my 50th class reunion last year, I enjoyed touring the Kummer Student Design Center and seeing the chemical car in the ChE department. From the alumni magazine, I see that all students must now take part in at least one experimental learning project before they graduate.

I would like to tell you about the required student collaborative projects required by the chemical engineering department for students taking ChE 255, Chemical Engineering Design, in 1965. In order to graduate, you had to do a chemical engineering design project as a team. In the 1960s, the farmers of Missouri voiced a loud complaint that while they paid taxes to support the Missouri universities, they did not receive any benefit. Therefore, Dr. Dudley Thompson, chair of chemical engineering, declared that the design classes must do a project that would benefit the farmers. It was determined that there was an unlimited supply of scrub oak within a 50-mile radius of Rolla, and this scrub oak was considered a weed tree. Therefore, the project must be one that would consume this tree in some form. A couple of the design teams took the easy way out and designed a charcoal production process.

Prof. Russell Primrose challenged our group to do something more innovative. We learned that The Masonite Corp. blasted trees with high-pressure water to break down the tree trunks to form the basis for their Masonite boards. That process produced a side product of wood lignins that they had to figure out how to use since they could no longer discharge this byproduct into the river. They developed a process to convert these lignin fibers into a type of livestock feed. Thus our project was to take scrub oak as the starting material and design a commercial-sized plant to turn this scrub oak into a livestock feed. At that time there was an oak barrel maker not far from Rolla, and we were able to get an unlimited supply of gunny sacks full of oak sawdust.

After a series of trials first on a lab scale and then scaling that process up into larger equipment in the unit ops lab, we were successful in developing a process to hydrolyze this sawdust into what we called a wood sugar. I still fondly remember the very hot days in the unit ops lab with my fellow chemical engineering students sweating and working out the necessary equipment and processing techniques to complete this project.

The disappointing outcome was that we could produce a wood sugar, but the capital expense was so large that a pound of wood sugar would cost about $5/pound while you could buy refined cane sugar in the grocery store for well under $1. Dr. Primrose gave us an A for our efforts. I guess there is still an unlimited supply of scrub oak just waiting for someone to figure out how to turn it into a cash crop for the farmers.

Wick Doll, ChE’65
Spartanburg, S.C.


would like to commend you on Missouri S&T Magazine. It is very interesting and full of news — without typos, which is unusual these days. The latest issue, Spring 2016, was especially good. I especially enjoyed the young man who was into volunteering. As an avid volunteer myself, I was very impressed
by him.

Pat Swanson, wife of the late Ken Swanson, GGph’59, CerE’62
West Liberty, Ohio

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