The MMI Society of Distinguished Scientists
The Best and The Brightest
In its nearly four decades of existence, Michigan Molecular Institute has seen many of the world’s foremost experts in polymer chemistry pass through its doors. On Oct. 29, 2009, in unveiling the inaugural class of The MMI Society of Distinguished Scientists, the organization paid tribute to three of its brightest.
Induction into The Society is reserved for “the pillars of MMI’s success whose innovation and commitment to excellence lifted the institute to great heights and left an indelible mark on the organization and its people.” At the ceremony Wednesday attended by MMI’s staff, board of directors, family and friends, the polymer research institute honored three men - Dr. Hans Elias, Dr. Dale Meier and Dr. Robert Nowak - who pushed the organization to new levels of prominence.
“The three people we’re honoring are heroes at MMI,” said Dr. Ronald Yocum, chairman of MMI’s board of directors. “They have brought so much, each in his own distinct way. Hans came when MMI was started. You had this concept that Ted Doan had come up with but hadn’t fleshed out. Hans had to take this and build it from scratch. Talk about a tough job.
“And Dale is the ultimate scientist,” Yocum continued. “Dale is someone who is admired throughout the scientific community, and he has the credentials to prove it. And Bob, coming here after a long and distinguished career at Dow Chemical, not only brought great science, but he brought the management skills to grow this institute and set us on the course to self-sufficiency.”
Nowak, Meier and Elias were all on hand with families in tow as the permanent display honoring their contributions was unveiled. As current MMI staff, directors and friends of the institute looked on, each of the three inductees expressed gratitude for the honor.
Elias, 81, was MMI’s first director when the doors opened in 1971 and he established MMI’s international reputation by instituting an annual scientific symposium, as well as the annual visiting professorship, which continues to thrive today. Elias is credited as an active leader in MMI’s early days, shaping the organization’s mission with its founder, Herbert D. “Ted” Doan. He is also a prolific author, having written 10 books, peaking with Macromolecules, an essential resource in the study of polymer chemistry. His tenure at MMI lasted until his retirement in 1983, although he’s still often seen visiting the institute, conferring with staff and checking materials out of MMI’s polymer library.
When Elias came aboard at MMI, one of the first people he hired was Meier, already a respected researcher in the field. An extraordinary lecturer with a gift for teaching, Meier served on the M.S. and Ph.D. committees of a great many graduate students in degree programs linked to CWRU, CMU and MTU. Meier was also a valuable sounding board for younger scientists at MMI, providing them with a consultant extraordinaire on many scientific fronts.
He excelled in the lab, making important contributions in the areas of block polymers, siloxane polymers and polymer theory; he also established the underpinning theoretical treatment for the polymerization of soluble, controlled growth hyperbranched polymers, work that is still incorporated into much of MMI’s research today. Meier, 87, retired in 2008 after 36-plus award-winning years at MMI, although he continues to serve as an expert consultant.
Nowak, 79, was MMI’s President and CEO from 1994 until his retirement in 2009. His tenure mixed scientific acumen with business expertise, and he’s credited for redefining MMI as an entrepreneurial organization that transforms materials science research into commercializable technology. From his arrival, Nowak energized MMI’s staff, challenging scientists to aggressively pursue every possible grant proposal. He also successfully transferred three technologies from Dow Chemical through MMI to other organizations, providing critical financial stability for MMI. Under Nowak’s leadership, MMI has nurtured four successful spinout companies - Dendritech, Oxazogen, Impact Analytical and MITCON. Additionally, he was very active on the science side; a good many of MMI’s patented technologies bear Nowak’s name as a key contributor.