September 2006 SCALACS: Dr. Norman Bilow

The Senior Chemists Committee surveyed the senior members of the Section to determine their interests. There appeared to be significant interest in sharing the stories of their professional experiences with other members. This was the first of such reminiscences.

Dr. Norman Bilow

When I decided to become a chemist sixty years ago, the field of polymers was in its infancy, so my first position at Dow Chemical Co. was at the forefront of technology developing polypropylene. At that time, anyone who was a bit creative could come up with projects which they believed warranted development and products which they would like to see invented.

With this in mind, the USAF and NASA requested proposals which might lead to polymeric materials which could not only char efficiently but would produce chars with excellent physical integrity. Why high char formers? Because there was the anticipation of developing spacecraft which could enter the earth’s atmosphere at high reentry temperatures and still maintain structural integrity. By then, I was at Hughes Aircraft Co., and we submitted a winning proposal. This led to various ongoing contracts which we won to solve other problems for both USAF and NASA. My coworkers and I participated in writing many proposals. Twenty four years later, I retired early, but the real reason was that, since I had managed so many of these programs, this led to my being named co-inventor in the many patents ultimately issued. In some cases, some of my coworkers felt that they were the sole inventors since they did most of the laboratory work.

Consequently Hughes management decided to divert me into marketing where I could use my personnel contacts to win programs for others to manage. I wanted to continue being a scientist. Thus, I retired from Hughes and joined Furane Products Co. as director of R. & D. After a merger with Rohm & Haas, I was designated manager of research, and a couple of years later, Ciba-Geigy bought Furane, and I stayed put. By the time I retired from Ciba, the company was part of Novartis. At Furane, I dealt primarily with polyurethanes foaming processes, etc. This work ultimately led to the giant mattress market.

After this second retirement, I did a little consulting, including managing a laboratory at Kaiser Compositek, but I also gained some middle school teaching experience by lecturing students on organic chemistry, describing molecular structures, building models, and explaining their role in the market place.

Thus my background is in research, but includes soliciting research sponsorship, the problem of excess notoriety, how to upgrade mechanical properties such as compressive strength, hardness etc. and what happens in corporate mergers.