Just One Question: What is the coolest, most exciting, or most fulfilling job you’ve ever done?
My nuclear experience began in 1951 in the desert near Idaho Falls, Idaho. The facility consisted of a pressurized, water-cooled and moderated power reactor as a heat source contained in a huge “sea tank” simulating conditions at sea, coupled to a “half mock-up” steam-turbine powered engine room for the Nautilus, our first nuclear-powered submarine.
The facility and programs were operated by the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory (BAPL) under Hyman G. Rickover, the “Father of the Nuclear Navy.” The facility was designed to confirm the ability to safely operate a nuclear power reactor as a heat source for steam generation, and subsequent use of the steam, in a steam-turbine powered propulsion plant. Another purpose of the facility was to provide skills and training of the submarine personnel. This experience lead to similar roles in providing nuclear power to the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered cruiser, Long Beach, and several subsequent nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines. I spent 17 years with BAPL and the naval reactors programs.
I subsequently joined the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which allowed me to apply my expertise to many other types of reactor designs and moderators, including fluidized bed cooled and moderated gas reactors, liquid-sodium-cooled reactors, and various organic-moderated types. In all these endeavors, public and nuclear safety was of paramount consideration. My last task involved nuclear and public safety issues, since a radioactive isotope was part of a power supply designed specifically for the Galileo satellite launch to Jupiter. The launch required a stable, long-life power source because the interplanetary transit time was slightly greater than two years. Jupiter’s distance from the sun precluded the use of solar power. The power supply, a radioactive isotope thermoelectric generator, contained fuel pellets of plutonium 238 oxide encapsulated with iridium to contain the fuel. The thermoelectric generator converted the isotope decay heat into usable electric energy. Extensive research and measures were undertaken to assure integrity of the capsules under all plausible conditions. Since the space shuttle was used in the launch, these included any failure during ascent that could lead to dispersion of the capsules, either over any thickly populated area or possible immersion and corrosion in salt water should the shuttle fall into the ocean.
I spent many fulfilling years with the AEC, retiring after 20 years of service. All of my experiences were both exciting and challenging.
—Lloyd Smith ’47 Th’48
I worked for six companies during my 40 years of employment. There was something significant at each company in completing the various projects; however, the one at the last company was the first time I used software to control machine functions. The company was Rockwell International and the division I was in was Goss, which manufactured newspaper printing machines and all the related handling equipment. A press produces newspapers at 48,000 per hour, almost a blur as they stream off onto conveying equipment to take them to an area where they are bundled for distribution. The spacing between newspaper “noses” is two to three inches. To create a bundle to convey to a truck, a stacker intercepts the flow on the conveyor to collect one second’s amount of papers. For many years, sensors were mechanical devices that bumped along the stream and sent a signal to relays that controlled the stacker operations. I developed a stacker design that had software-compatible sensors sending information to a computer to control motorized devices, thereby operating the stacker more smoothly and on a one-second cycle. After the bundle is tied, it is conveyed to a truck that distributes it and other bundles to areas of the city or outskirts. This may require that a given truck have bundles with different news or advertising content that would be produced on a different press, a different stacker, a different conveyor that probably doesn’t go directly to the truck. I designed a bundle distribution system that used a computer to identify a given bundle and send it to the appropriate truck. Goss had installations in many countries, and I was fortunate to be able to travel to those locations to insure proper installation and operation of the handling equipment.
—Robert D. Eckerson ’48 Th’49
Our company melts and refines and produces alloys of copper, tin, lead, zinc, nickel, aluminum, manganese silicon, antimony, silver, and iron. We sell the copper-based alloys to foundries to make valves, plumbing goods, pumps, bushings and bearings, glass molds, bells, bronze sculptures, pole line hardware, plaques, and ship propellers. Our tin- and lead-base alloys and products are used in plating, soldering, extrusions, sound attenuation, X-ray shielding, and counterweights, among other end products.
What is fulfilling about 55 years of doing this: About 90 percent of our raw material feed is recycled from scrap. Reuse of scrap bypasses mining and smelting to produce metals, thus saving energy, the landscape, and the atmosphere. It supports the scrap-metal industry and provides high-quality finished products more efficiently and at lower cost and with less waste to landfills. Through the years I estimate about 7,000 truck/rail carloads of scrap have been converted to useful alloys and products at our plants. We were in the “green” sector long before green entered the vernacular.
—Jack Avril ’53 Tu’54 Th’54
Computer modeling of a close-in weapon system for the Swiss firm Contraves in 1986–87, when I worked in Switzerland with Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC). Because of my expertise in modeling weapon systems (such as the Mark 50 torpedo) for the U.S. Navy, I was able to fill the position for CSC there. A close-in weapon system is a gun that is used to shoot down sea-skimming missiles. The Mark 50 torpedo became the latest lightweight torpedo for the Navy. The greatest challenge was being able to conduct an accurate evaluation of the torpedo vs. very capable foreign submarines.
—William Pierce ’54 Th’56
I have had quite a few exciting and fulfilling jobs in my 35-year career in telecommunications/datacom, but the most interesting assignment took place in the early 1980s: the creation of a worldwide market analysis/forecast common language guide for ITT, similar to the guide used by every comptroller worldwide to speak the exact same financial language. (A comptroller in Germany could phone a comptroller in the United States and, when referencing an item on page 8, line 22, they would be working with the same definition.) At the time, product managers and market forecasters from each country had their own set of definitions and methods of analysis and forecasting. My friends and associates said, “It will never happen!” Not discouraged, I created a first draft of the common language guide. I visited our international units to improve it, and it was implemented worldwide on a confidential basis. Two or three years later, the Korean Telecommunications Research Institute wished to determine the future of telecommunications and data for the country in 2000. Billions of dollars in sales would be awarded to the supplier whose forecast was accepted, and I was selected to be the team leader for the ITT proposal. My strategy for winning was simple: Share the common language guide methodology with the Koreans and let them do the forecast (with our guidance). It worked. We got the business. In ITT, that was the true measure of success.
—Joel Ash ’56 Th’58
The most significant work I did in my career was at Los Alamos in 1964, a time when the mechanism of the monoclinic-tetragonal phase transformation in zirconium dioxide was a matter of wide controversy. We made a movie showing the rumpled surface of the formerly smooth surface of a sample of zirconium dioxide. The movie, along with other data, confirmed that the mechanism of the transformation was so-called “martensitic” or shear-type. I was a lieutenant on active duty at the time, serving at the Air Force Materials Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
—Loren Jacobson ’60 Th’61
In 1966 implementing the interactive brand information system at Procter & Gamble was one of the first interactive uses of computers in a practical business application. The technology was called “time sharing,” and utilized a teletype machine as a terminal. The terminal communicated with a mainframe using dial-up telephone lines. This was a precursor of the personal computer, Excel, and the Internet revolution. I implemented it for the advertising department at Procter & Gamble 45 years ago. It was used by brand managers to manipulate sales and market-share data by regions and time periods using a matrix-oriented programming language called Matran (a matrix-oriented version of Fortran, proprietary to P&G).
—Dennis Crumbine ’62
My current role as a professor of sustainable business practices at the Ohio State Fisher College of Business. Eight years ago I was given the opportunity to design a course for M.B.A.s. I now have a package of five courses that I offer to both M.B.A.s and undergraduate business students. This experience has allowed me to combine everything I have learned in my career into a timely curriculum to which students are not exposed in other courses. Next year Ohio State is launching a campus-wide major in sustainability that will incorporate two of my courses. Another plus to this experience is the sense of legacy that it creates.
—Neil Drobny ’62 Th’64
My coolest project: building from scratch—every nut and bolt—a replica of the 1966 Shelby Ford AC Cobra. I have more than 2,000 hours in this car. I completed the project during a single calendar year while running my company, Plastic Technologies Inc., during the day! I purchased a rebuilt 1969 Ford 351 ci Cleveland engine. Because the 351 is a 302 cc with larger cylinder diameters, it generates a lot of heat, so I installed a double-sized radiator and wired the cooling fan to run all the time. The 351 is a perfect engine for the Cobra because it is a small block V-8 that is several hundred pounds lighter than the 427, which Shelby used when he finally beat the Porsche on a race track back in the mid-1960s; and a small block engine is much easier to work on under the hood. I used a brand new T-5 Ford Mustang five-speed manual transmission with a short Hurst gearshift, and I cut a normal Mustang driveshaft down to a length of about 12 inches to connect the Ford 8.8-inch differential to the transmission. I did the project in an old two-car garage on jack stands. Today I have a cool nine-car garage with two parking lifts and a working scissors lift. I’ve restored a 1971 VW Beetle convertible, 1966 Ford Mustang, 1972 Jaguar V-12 XKE 2+2 coupe, and 1997 Jaguar XK-8.
—Tom Brady ’66 Th’68
The best was as venture manager of a new thermoplastic composite for the auto industry. In the late 1980s I headed a team of engineers and sales folks to introduce a plastic composite to auto companies in the Detroit area. We built a team of sales and technical folks, moved sales from nothing to commercial volumes, established a technical center with testing of these materials for automobile specifications, and eventually built a commercial manufacturing plant in Virginia. Along the way our technical team won several awards sponsored by the Society of Plastics Engineers for part design. It was a great experience, one that I’ll always remember fondly.
—Rick Burkhart Th’66
One of the most challenging and fulfilling projects I have undertaken is that of the first marina on our island of Cyprus. As the owner and managing partner of my firm, A.F. Modinos and S.A Vrahimis, I am the project engineer in charge of the design and supervision team of the Limassol Marina. The Limassol Marina is an exclusive waterfront development that involves the creation of islands extending for almost half a mile into the sea and is designed by our architects and engineers in collaboration with the French marine master planner Xavier Bohl. It combines elegant residences and a state-of-the-art marina with an enticing mix of restaurants and shops to create a lifestyle uniquely shaped by “living on the sea.” Our Greek heritage is reflected in the sunlit terraces, the flowering pergolas, and the elegant stone work. Combined with the breathtaking views of the sparkling Mediterranean this is the most challenging, demanding, and inspiring work I have recently undertaken.
Trying to create islands and buildings in the middle of the sea is a daunting engineering project, in which many challenges have to be met and overcome. As the consultant company you must deal with a great many people from different trades on a daily basis; as an engineer you must never underestimate the problems that can be created by forces of nature; as a project manager you have the responsibility to make the quick, right decisions based on your experience and training in order to keep the project moving. Designing the buildings to withstand earthquakes and differential settlement of the newly created islands was one of the most challenging issues faced. Reclaiming the land from the Mediterranean Sea was a first for me as an engineer and a first for our country. We anticipate that the end result will be a beautiful and inviting marina that will reflect the warmth of our Greek hospitality and cultural heritage combined with innovative engineering and state-of-the-art technology.
The broad engineering spectrum and also the valuable general education received from Thayer has been instrumental in shaping my actions and career from the very beginning of my professional life. The education received has been pivotal in the way I manage people from different fields and in the way tasks are completed—from the smallest project to the largest complicated design.
—Saverios Vrahimis ’71 Th’73
The construction of a veterans monument on Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, Calif., is one of those projects that had a lasting impact on my life. A lawsuit was filed by atheists seeking to have the original monument to Korean War veterans torn down. (It is in the shape of a cross and was located in a city park—it was a question of separation of church and state.) The organization that I head submitted a bid to purchase the property from the city and develop it as a multi-faceted, world-class veterans memorial. We won the bid and came up with a great design that fits into the landscape and includes about 3,200 black granite plaques, each a tribute to an individual veteran. Each plaque includes a photograph of the veteran etched into the granite along with details of his service record. Annually we hold services for veterans during Veterans Day week and on Memorial Day. We also hold private flag-raising services for the families of veterans honored on the walls. This project has been incredibly meaningful to thousands of families who want to have their veteran remembered for posterity.
—Bill Kellogg ’73
Leading and successfully turning around a small (less than 150 employees) heat exchanger company based in Toronto, Canada. The job was a rare amalgam of challenges: financial, engineering, procurement, customer relations. The memories of a diverse workforce and a great city are priceless as well.
—Mike Onderick ’73 Th’74
I spent 20 years in marketing and sales for the telecom industry. Recently I have been teaching high school physics for eight years, and it’s the most enjoyable job I’ve had. I work with high school juniors and seniors, helping to launch them into college and beyond. The material is wonderful and the people I work with are great. I recommend teaching high school science as a career after an engineering career.
—Richard Cavanaugh ’81 Th’83
Working on the construction of the Channel Tunnel between England and France. I worked on the construction of the Channel Tunnel in the early 1990s. It was my first construction project where I had commercial responsibility, and I spent quite a bit of time in complex negotiations to settle massive contractor claims on behalf of the owner, Eurotunnel. The cultural challenges were interesting, and I drew upon my French language skills acquired during my foreign study program in Toulouse while at Dartmouth. I attended Eurotunnel board meetings that were conducted in a mixture of French and English, which led to frequent misunderstandings! There was a great deal of complex litigation—a whole new world to a young engineer. When we finally reached a commercial resolution that enabled the project to be completed, it seemed like a miracle. I learned that commercial considerations can be much more complicated than “simple” engineering and construction.
—Mike A. Adams ’83
Right now I am working to bring to production a two-wheeled tilting front end I designed for motorcycles. The front end was designed to be a bolt-on conversion for a standard motorcycle. The additional wheel up front significantly improves the motorcycle’s braking and traction.
The two wheels up front steer, lean, and handle just like a standard motorcycle. I have been working on this project for the last seven years and currently have two issued patents (7,487,985 and 7,967,306) and a third patent pending. I was originally told by the head of the vehicle design program at a local university that my idea had been tried before, would be unstable, and would not work. A couple of years ago I worked with a student engineering team at Thayer to help me with some design work on my project. I completed a 3,200-mile trip to the Harley-Davidson Sturgis gathering last August. More information and video of my bike in action can be found on my Tilting Motor Works website.
—Bob Mighell ’85 Th’86
Probably the coolest job I’ve done recently was one my company, Focus Embedded, picked up a couple of years ago to design the guts of a handheld video projector for 3M. What made it fun was the fact that it came with the interesting technical design challenges that go with making electronics run at video speeds, the economic constraints that go with knowing it would be produced for the consumer market, manufacturing issues related to building the things offshore, and the overall “wow” factor of designing a cool product that would stop people in their tracks when they saw it.
Technically what made the job such fun was that the entire projector runs on something of an optical illusion. The imager module is a small reflector made of a polished silicon substrate covered with an array of ferroelectric material that can rotate the polarization state of incident light from zero to 90 degrees. If you held the imager in normal room light and looked at it, even with an image displayed on it, all you’d see is a roughly 1-by-1.25-centimeter mirror. But inside the projector, the lamphouse shines incident light onto this imager only after it’s been through a polarizing filter. And as the focused image exits the projector through the imaging optics, it passes through a second polarizer. Pixels that haven’t been rotated pass right through. Ones that have are stopped cold if they’ve been rotated 90 degrees. And anything in between goes through at some intermediate luminance.
The imager module is also monochrome. The image you see is full color because the lamphouse contains three LEDs (one red, one green, and one blue, or R, G, B) that are turned on sequentially as the red, green, and blue portions of the image are put on the display. “Persistence of vision” causes the viewer’s brain to reassemble the three in a full color. Turning on the LEDs for only part of the time (when their corresponding monochrome color image is on the display module) means that they can be dramatically overdriven in order to get high brightness. While the LEDs are “off” (and other colors are “on”), the silicon die has time to cool enough to make driving them with about four-times overcurrent possible. Additionally, most of the time none of them is on, and the viewer’s brain, which is only recording peak brightness, thinks they’re still on and fills in the “gaps.” As a result, the power-hungry lamphouse is only sucking down electrons (at the 500mA rate required to drive the LEDs) for a small fraction of the time the device is perceived to be running. Since the rest of the unit only consumes about 25mA total, battery life is extended to the point where a single charge on a cell phone battery will allow the unit to play a feature-length movie.
3M came to us originally asking for the logic design for a chip to get the video content out of a small fast memory, deliver it to the imager, and synchronize the R, G, and B portions of the picture with the lighting of the R, G, and B LEDs. But when we got that working in simulation and it needed to be tested on a real circuit board, we were asked to design the printed circuit board as well. We were further given the job of developing the switch mode power supplies to run the device at extreme high efficiency.
We were pleased that when 3M decided to do the next generation of projectors with higher resolution and faster refresh rates, they could reuse all of our code and recompile our work with nothing more than a few changes. Our lasting gift to them was that their next projector was designed in about one-third the time the first one was, since we’d set things up with a development path ahead. Their lasting gift to us has been a lot of repeat business.
—Eric Overton ’87 Th’89
My first job in a micro-sized startup. It was the combination of inventing a technology, winning formal recognition for the technology (R&D 100 Award), and then exploring commercialization options, all under the security of a steady paycheck. The commercialization attempt required me to learn about marketing and venture capital funding while maintaining a small operations side of the business to generate revenue numbers for investors. All in all, it gave me a broader end-to-end view of what it means to be an entrepreneur. The job made me feel I can make a difference. As I moved into more defined roles in larger companies, I never had the same experience again.
—Sumit Guha Th’88
The coolest, most exciting, and most fulfilling job I had was 10 years ago. I became an architect after finishing my B.E. I had my own firm, and I spent two years with two close friends designing a brand new university, Ashesi University in Ghana. The project included the campus master plan and all the buildings. It just finished construction this year. We made very little money (we did receive earned income credit) and worked an insane amount of hours, but we had so much fun and it was a fantastic opportunity.
—Sofia Veniard ’93 Th’94
The most fulfilling job I have ever had is where I am working currently, as a high school math and science teacher at Doulos Discovery School in the Dominican Republic. The country has the lowest investment and performance in academics of all of Latin America and the Caribbean, with the possible exception of its island neighbor, Haiti. The need for education here is desperate. That is why Doulos Discovery School, a Christian school, seeks not only to equip the kids here with a first-rate education, but also train them to become leaders who have a servant’s heart. In this way, when their hard work and preparation enable them to rise into positions of leadership, they will use this influence to bring about lasting, needed, and meaningful changes that will benefit Dominicans at all socioeconomic levels.
Being a teacher is the most challenging job I have had. Sure, some other jobs demanded more intellectual rigor and training, but no other job has required constantly putting my own needs second, being patient with students who are at times disrespectful or lazy, or simply seeking to serve others in the way that teaching has. Doulos utilizes the expeditionary form of learning pioneered by Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound. It is hands-on learning with a service focus. Recently my ninth-grade science class built and installed a windmill using materials that cost less than $150. It gave our students a good taste for renewable energy.
—Harley McAllister ’94 Th’95
Designing the graphical user interface and sound scheme for the Tesla Roadster—and seeing it out there, “in the wild.” (I worked alongside Matt Senesky ’98 Th’99 and Diarmuid O’Connell ’86.)
The narrative surrounding electric cars has changed so much during the past five years. It was exciting to be at the center of the action and rewarding to feel like I was making a (small) impact on oil dependence, climate change, and national security—while honoring the legacy of an undersung inventor (Tesla) who died penniless, talking to pigeons.
—Krispin Leydon ’99 Th’01
The job I have now: working at Google as a software engineer on a to-be-named project that aims to handle hundreds of thousands of queries from online ad exchanges for dynamically generated bids on ads from thousands of advertisers. Right now my job involves understanding issues as big as how data flow from company to company all the way down to how the HTML needs to be modified. And figuring out how we can work together as efficiently as possible to make this happen! It’s been crazy at times, but definitely exciting.
In contrast, the job that got me the most “cool” points from people I’ve talked to was working on Microsoft’s Flight Simulator game for five years. It seems like everyone you meet over the age of 25 who has ever played a computer game has played that one at some point during its 25-year history. Getting to see some of those planes in real life was pretty fun, too!
—Susan Ashlock ’00
Each day medicine provides interesting and unique challenges. The most recent challenge for me was delivering a baby in an elevator. (Read about the unexpected delivery.) I’m currently a chief resident in orthopedic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. I’ve been here for the past five years training since I graduated from Dartmouth Medical School in 2007. Next year I’m headed to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for a yearlong arthroplasty (joint replacement) fellowship. When I was an undergraduate engineering major, Dr. Mayor and Professor Collier were very influential in my pursuit of a career in medicine and orthopedic surgery. After the fellowship I hope to find an attending surgeon position where I can combine my interests in engineering and medicine. As an aside, I rented a room from Dr. Myric Wood in Lebanon during medical school and became close friends with him. He was a general practitioner for 45 years. He was one of the most amazing physicians I have ever worked with, and I learned a lot about general practice from him. His wife, Lois Wood, was one of the past Thayer School magazine editors. The Dartmouth community is a very special place to learn, for which I am grateful.
—Derek Jenkins ’02 DMS’06
Banging my helmeted head against a concrete pillar to calibrate an early head impact telemetry prototype with a mouthguard accelerometer. It occurred at Brown University in the summer of 2002, for a summer internship with Simbex LLC (and Adjunct Professor Rick Greenwald Th’88). It helped shaped my graduate studies in orthopedic biomechanics. I’m currently an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Montana State University. My lab studies cartilage, osteoarthritis, and how mechanical loading is transduced into biological signals.
—Ron June ’02
I would have to say my current job, developing the new BMW X5 in Munich, has got to be the coolest project I’ve worked on. Between the design in context and vehicle validation processes, there is always something interesting going on.
—Matt Wallach Th’09
My most fulfilling project so far is the process improvement project for my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt training with Professor Lasky and Dr. Cheung at the radiology department at DHMC. Goal: process at least one more patient through the radiology department. Challenges: lots of details in the process to capture in mapping. Highlight: finding data captured by the software that the department had been using to track patient check-in and processing info. Result: found the solution to processing two patients through the department.
—Wei Peng Th’11