After agreeing to write this article, I have thought a lot about what should be in a career reflection. As you will see, I have decided to focus mainly on my early years. I expect that most of the people that read this probably know my recent history but were probably not yet born when I started my career journey at UT 50 years ago.
50 Years: Last May I retired from UT after almost 50 years of service. The last 10 of those years I have been on a post retirement gig that thankfully has allowed me to continue to be involved on a part time basis. I enjoyed every aspect of my career at UT but what I will miss the most is the classroom. There are many dimensions to an academic career but I personally found none more rewarding or more challenging than facing a classroom full of bright young people
My Path Here: I joined the UT faculty in December of 1968 after completing both my undergraduate and graduate work at LSU. I did not expect nor did I even entertain the possibility of an academic career. I fully expected to accept a job as a chemical engineer for one of the many companies located in south Louisiana. Fortunately, during my junior year I took a couple of classes that literally changed my life. I was blown away by both the teacher and subject matter. Paul Murrill was a new faculty member doing pioneering research on using digital computers to automatically control chemical processes. I was hooked and wanted more so I applied to the graduate program to study under Murrill. It worked out well. A couple of years later, I had a PhD, a dissertation, a half a dozen published papers and was about to start a teaching job at the University of Tennessee that would last almost 50 years.
Graduation Surprise: I had not considered the possibility of an academic career until a month before graduation. My graduation was unexpectedly early. By the fall of 1968 all the technical requirements of my PhD requirements were complete except for one foreign language exam. At that time all PhDs were required to pass a written exam in two foreign languages. Thanks to high school French, and a flashcard review of vocabulary, I was able to barely pass the French exam but I had made no progress on the second. Fortunately, that fall the graduate school was quietly at the very beginning of a process of changing those requirements. I managed to get the second language requirement waved with the argument that I was married, had two kids, and urgently needed find a job.
Interview Cloaked in Mystery: With the encouragement from Murrill, I wrote letters to schools that I thought would be interested in my background. Shortly afterwards I scheduled three campus visits all in the first week in November. My interview at UT was on November 5th, which was election day, the day Richard Nixon was to be elected to his first term as President.
My visit to Knoxville was a little strange. Besides being election day, when I arrived on campus I was welcomed by the Dean and Department Head and immediately asked to not disclose to anyone that my visit was a faculty interview. The problem was that UT was not ready to announce that the position in ChE was open.
Bad Optics but Good Timing: At the time of my interview, the war in Vietnam was raging and there was tension on campuses all over the country. The UT community was abuzz after Dick Gregory, comedian and an outspoken critic of the war, was controversially disinvited by the administration to a talk scheduled on campus. In response the administration agreed to have a student/faculty committee draft a new speaker policy. John Prados, whose position I was to fill, was the chairman of that committee. The problem was that John was to be promoted to be the Associate Dean of Engineering and the optics would have been bad if that had been known before the committee’s report.
By the way, Prados and Murrill were undergraduates together at Ole Miss. The two of them schemed to have me apply for the yet unannounced opening in chemical engineering. I owe both thanks for much more than my academic start. Both have been enormously helpful to me both personally and professionally throughout my career.
Choosing Tennessee: After a frantic week of interviews Tennessee became a clear choice. Because of the mystery surrounding my interview I didn’t have much of a chance to meet the faculty or graduate students, but I liked the campus and I loved the idea of raising my family in East Tennessee. But by far the most appealing part of UT’s offer was the possibility of quickly establishing a research lab. Back then the department was a combination of Chemical, Metallurgical, and Polymer Engineering. A year earlier the department had been awarded a large DOE grant for new research equipment. I was invited to use the remaining funds to establish a research facility.
It was turbulent times but a few months later I had purchased a small computer system and with the help of the departmental shops it was interfaced to equipment in the unit operations laboratory. I recruited a few students and my research was off running.
Turbulent Times: I suppose the beginning of most academic careers could be well described as turbulent. The job of assistant professor is a poorly defined mixture of teaching, research, and service. It comes with no clear guidelines or instructions other than a personal tenure clock that is ticking loudly in the background constantly reminding you that you have about six years to prove yourself worthy. Also, like most new faculty, I was also starting a family. My wife was in graduate school preparing for her own academic career and we had two precocious preschool age children that needed their share of attention.
In addition to the turbulence of starting a new job and a new family, I began my career at UT during very turbulent times, politically. The news backdrop for my early years included the war in Vietnam, the draft lottery, the Watergate break in, the secret White House tapes and growing calls for Nixon’s impeachment. UT was not insulated from the turbulence. There were peace rallies and protests on campus almost daily. In an effort to minimize the influence of outside agitators there was a period early in my career where a person without a valid UT ID could be escorted off campus.
In May of 1970 protest on campus made the national news. Just weeks after Kent State students were killed by the National Guard, Billy Graham held one of his Crusades in Neyland Stadium. Nixon spoke at one event, sparking the largest anti-war protest in Knoxville’s history. It led to 50 arrests and a free-speech case that almost made it to the Supreme Court.
UT’s Athletic Board: Throughout my career students have been curious about my football days at LSU. Yes, I did play defensive back on the infamous Chinese Bandits squad. There will be more to follow about that experience but for now it does explain why shortly after I arrived on campus I was asked to serve on UT’s Athletic Board. I was named the chairperson of the Committee on Academics. It didn’t take long to find out that the one thing that the chair of that committee was not supposed to do was ask questions about academics. At LSU I had just witnessed how unfairly academics were used to regulate scholarship obligations. Hopefully, times have changed, but back then there was a limit to the total number of football scholarships and they could be revoked for only two reasons: breaking “team rules” and not meeting “academics standards.” Of the 63 or more recruited in my freshman class, fewer than 8 of us still had scholarships when we left LSU.
Bursting Bubbles: Another aspect of my turbulent tour of the Athletic Board had to do with plans in the mid-70s to encapsulate Neyland Stadium with a bubble. It turned out that the chairperson of the committee on academics was also an ex-officio member of the UT’s Board of Trustees. The first and only meeting I attended was the meeting in which the Neyland bubble was discussed. I soon found myself face to face with Cornel Tom Elam, the crusty old Chairman of the Board, trying to explain some of the objections that faculty had to the spending money on a bubble. The News Sentinel had a headline the next day “Moore Burst Bubble.” I expect that clipping is in a scrapbook box in the attic. Perhaps I will find it before these reflections go to print.
Unlikely Combination: Yes, I played football at LSU while studying chemical engineering. Doing both was probably my biggest claim to fame in both football and in chemical engineering. But no apologies from me. I got a good education and played on some very good football teams. We finished in the top 10 and went to a bowl game all three years that I played on the varsity. My junior year we played Syracuse University in the Sugar Bowl. We beat Syracuse that year and again in my senior year we beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. I had the personal problem that many of my relatives, including my father, went to the University of Arkansas. That Cotton Bowl loss to LSU ended their bid for a national championship that year. My relatives still remember and blame me for that loss.
I lettered three years and was named an Academic All American my senior year, but to be honest I was never a star at the college level. I did, however, play against some big named stars that some of you old timers may still remember. I played against Jim Nance and Floyd Little of Syracuse, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler from Alabama, George Mira of Miami, Bobby Crockett of Arkansas and Steve Spurrier of Florida. Steve Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy his senior year and was later inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame both as a player and as a coach.
I managed to escape my football years with only minor physical injuries but thanks to Steve Spurrier I did leave with some mental scars. My Junior year we were scheduled to play Florida mid-season but Hurricane Hilda blew through Baton Rouge that weekend and the game was postponed to the end of the season. By then we had one of the top defenses in the country and had gone through the regular season without giving up a passing touchdown. (That statistic would not be possible today, and it was rather unlikely back then.) Unfortunately, that night against Spurrier we gave up two. The first one was over me and it was witnessed by 65,000 fans. It was a play that I replayed in my sleep over and over again but could never change the outcome.
Building a Research Program from Scratch: The first step in building my research program at UT was establishing a real-time process control laboratory. My PhD dissertation research had been conducted entirely with computer simulations. It seemed important that my research at UT include at least some applications where a computer was actually connected to and controlling a real process. It wasn’t a straightforward objective. This was before the age of mini-computers and we did not know much about computers and very little if anything about computing in “real-time.”
The first chore was selecting a computer system. With help from a new generation of computer vendors we selected a DEC PDP-18 with magnetic tape memory, D/A and A/D converters. All programming was done in machine language through a teletype interface.
The teletype was the first piece of computer equipment delivered. It set in a room all by itself for a couple of weeks connected only to a paper tape punch/reader. One day I noticed there was an undergraduate student busy working with the teletype. I walked up to see he had rigged the paper tape reader/punch to continually and loudly print the following message:
“Dr. Moore Sucks! Dr. Moore Sucks! Dr. Moore Sucks!…”
I’m not sure what that says about my relationship with students at that time but we had a good laugh. The computer arrived soon after and the teletype and computer were put to a better use. By the way this was the first computer system on campus that was not part of the central computer center. There was considerable institutional resistance to departmental units having our own computer systems. And at the time a new system-level Vice President was named to approve all departmental computer purchases. His annual salary could have funded several computers similar to ours.
Smaller Computers and Bigger Applications: After establishing the process control lab facilities, we did a lot of work using even smaller computers. Computers on a chip (i.e. PDP-8, PDP-11) became readily available. Through research contracts we developed a number of industrial control systems. Our application focus was on large industrial HVAC systems. We selected applications that could benefit from advanced control algorithms but did not have the payback that could justify costly industrial computer-based control systems.
Short Course Visibility: Early in my career I was fortunate to have the opportunity to help teach short courses for the AIChE. Process Control was a relatively new focus in chemical engineering and there was no shortage of practicing engineers who wanted to know what it was all about. Initially I teamed up with Paul Murrill and Cecil Smith (my professors from LSU) with a series of short courses that included basic as well as advanced topics in process modeling and control. During the first five or six years of my career these workshops were offered at nearly every national AIChE meeting. This exposure provided me ongoing contact with engineers in industry who were looking for help in solving real control problems. In return, these problems help me define my research agenda and provided examples to use in class discussions. (For example, students have always enjoyed my discussions of helping Proctor and Gamble develop the controls system for the Pringle potato chip machine).
Throughout my career I continued to consult and teach workshops both in the US and in Europe. By the way, I was in Madrid, Spain teaching one of these workshops when 911 happened. Ron Rousseau (Georgia Tech), Jim Downs (Eastman Chemical Co), and I were presenting a workshop on Distillation Design, Operation, and Control when the world as we knew it changed. We would stay several extra days before we could complete the workshop and find a flight home.
Measurement and Control Engineering Center: Early in my career I helped organize the Measurement and Control Engineering Center (MCEC) and served as co-technical director for almost 20 years. MCEC was a consortium of member companies interested in basic research in a variety of topics related to controlling industrial processes. Research projects were selected and funded by the member companies with some additional support for the National Science Foundation. The program provided support for some graduate students and faculty in three departments in the college- chemical, electrical, and nuclear. MCEC also had collaborative research contracts with other similar university-based consortiums (i.e. Lehigh University, University of Washington, and Oklahoma State University).
I am fortunate that my academic career spanned a period in history in which practical engineering research was permitted and industrial sponsorship was encouraged. My academic career would not be possible today with the current emphasis on basic research funded by large government grants.
Applied Control Concepts, Inc.: I am thankful that my position at the university allowed me to pursue, within limits, outside opportunities. In addition to workshops and short courses, I also was able to serve as part-time consult for those companies that needed more than a workshop. Once I even formed a small company (Applied Control Concepts, Inc.) to allow us to design and manufacture some microprocessor-based control system that one of our sponsors needed. These connections outside of the university helped keep my academic focus relevant.
Process Control Internship: In 1980 a relationship with Eastman Chemical Company was established that would be the highlight of my career at UT. It was an honors class intended to provide a few students with a real experience in process analysis and control. Each year the class (CBE 467) would work on a problem provided by Eastman’s Advanced Control Technology group. Typically, the problem was one that was active and under review and study at Eastman.
At the beginning of the semester Eastman would share the details of a problem. With signed security agreements we were given drawings, historical data, and tours, as well as lengthy discussions about the effect of the problem on plant-wide operations. The students under my direction worked on the problem all semester, and usually a little bit more before presenting our results to Eastman.
This program was active for more than 37 years. It gave a group of students an example of something much bigger than problems found in textbooks. For me it became the center of my ongoing education. Every year I was presented with a new set of intellectual challenges. The solutions were never straightforward and had to be developed. I learned something from every study that was made and I frequently was able to carry that understanding back to my research program.
I am grateful to Eastman’s Advance Control Technology Group for sponsoring this unique program. Also, I deeply appreciate the plant areas within Eastman that agreed to let a group of students and their professor have unusual access to plant operations. It was a unique educational experience for me and for the students. I think it was also a unique experience for the group of unusually talented engineers to participate in the education of the next generation of engineers.
A special thanks must also go to Jim Downs, the leader of the Advanced Control Technology Group. Jim’s knowledge of chemical engineering is only surpassed by his enthusiasm for problem solving. His enthusiasm is both inspiring and contagious.
Engineering vs Statistical Process Control: Near the middle of my career I became aware that there were two very different and competing understandings of the meaning of process control. In the chemical industry process control was about using engineering controllers to make frequent but subtle adjustments to keep the process in control. In discrete manufacturing the philosophy was to operate in such a way that adjustments were seldom necessary. Frequent adjustments only meant that the process was not in control. In the mid-80s some vendor/supplier contracts required the implementation of SPC control charts in the chemical industry. When and where to use SPC vs EPC became a confusing issue and one that intrigued me. For a number of years, I worked with my industrial sponsors and with the College of Business to help more clearly define the role of each and how best to integrate the two strategies.
50 Years- Then and Now: It was interesting to me to note that two popular campus icons, the torchbearer statue in Circle Park and the “Rock” on Volunteer Boulevard, arrived on campus about the same time I did. Fifty years ago, engineering students still used slide rulers and engineering faculty wore coats and ties to the classroom. There was only one digital computer on campus. Class sizes were much smaller, but we taught multiple sections and had Saturday morning classes. Dougherty was a relatively new building back then but is now beginning to show it’s age. Renovations to the undergraduate labs have helped, plus it is surrounded by newer more modern engineering and science facilities.
Change happens in jolts and jerks: For me, personally the biggest change is that I was much younger 50 years ago. I started teaching when I was 25 and at that time I was younger than most of the graduate students. The first PhD committee I served on was a young man who started his graduate program when I was still in high school. Change is not timeless. It happens in jolts and jerks. I remember when it first dawned on me that students who use to be my age were suddenly the age of my children. I still clearly remember the first student that said “Dr. Moore, my father had you when he was in school.” And yes, I did have at least one student who admitted that I taught her grandfather. It all happens so quickly.
Another echo across time is the realization that many of my former students are ahead of me in retirement. One example stands out. About 20 years ago our family physician retired and was replaced by a new physician named Alan Rice. When we were introduced, he looked me in the eye and said with a smile, “You teach at UT, don’t you?” Then he reminded me that he was in the first class that I taught at UT. He graduated and worked as a chemical engineer for a few years then went to med school. I am thankful to now have him as my family physician. As I approach the age where medical issues happen more and more frequently it is extremely helpful to have a doctor that can talk to me about medicine using chemical engineering analogies.
Timeless Distillation: Throughout my career, it has occurred to me the important role that distillation plays in chemical engineering education. I am not talking about the columns as much as I am not talking about attracting and collecting students interested and capable of working as a chemical engineer. And, the fact that the students we attract are generally bright, self-confident, thoughtful, and caring compared to their general age group. And, above all else our students are curious about learning how things work.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my career is that for the past 50 years the average age of most of the people I am around on a daily basis has always been in their early 20s. While in school they are forever young. Eventually most move on to graduation and to life in the real world but I expect they will always fondly remember their timeless days as a UT student. I feel privileged to have shared some of those days. I cherish our time together.
As for my many wonderful graduate students, I thank you for the tender care you have all taken with my continuing education. I appreciate you checking in on me every so often and gently correcting my understanding of the difference between engineering education and engineering practice.