Dr. Alexander Weir

We have a new addition to our Senior Reminiscences. Dr. Weir’s enumeration of his career highlights provide interesting snapshots of propulsion and combustion technologies.

Dr. Alexander Weir

I am proud of the following things:

  1. I am a 65 Year Member of the American Chemical Society.
  2. I sold magazines from age 8 to 10 to earn a $5 Chemistry set.
  3. In the summer before Pearl Harbor, at age 18, I was in charge of the Chemistry lab at American Cyanamid’s West Bauxite Plant in Ark.
  4. I worked on the Manhattan Project before I was 21. I finally made a synthetic rubber gasket which would withstand some unknown chemical and then provided the formula.
  5. I found that samples of supposedly synthetic vulcanized rubber which our WW2 allies, the Russians, gave to the US War Production Board were actually made from natural rubber from Japan.
  6. I developed a ramjet combustion chamber which would not “blow out” at high mass velocities. I presented emission spectrographs from this device actually operating at 3000 deg. F at 122nd ACS meeting. This was published in Ind.Eng.Chem.45,1637,1953.
  7. I passed the oral exam for my Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan on my 31st birthday. I had to explain how the statements concerning “supercritical orifices” in a book in which 4 of the authors were on my thesis committee violated the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. The same error occurred in ChE and Mech Eng Handbooks. Presented at 1954 Annual Meeting of ASME, published Trans. ASME, p481,April 1956.
  8. Discovered how Carbon Monoxide is first formed in flames from free radicals rather than a complex scheme involving aldehydes. Emission spectrographs from a propane –air flame irradiated by a 1000 Curie gold source indicated that CO is formed by the equation C2 + OH = CH +CO. Presented at 131st ACS Meeting, published Ind.Eng.Chem 49,1423,57. Also in Chem.Abstracts Section 3-Electric Phenomena,col 97,1958.
  9. Provided a simple fix to prevent premature detonation in Chrysler Corporation’s new design engine in the spring before their new 1956 models were to be released in September.
  10. I fixed the first ICBM that the US launched. 3 months earlier, the Russians had launched “Sputnick”,the Navy’s missile exploded on the Launch pad and the first 2 Atlas ICBM’s had both exploded exactly 30 seconds after launch. While the airframe contractor though the explosions were due to thermal radiation and fabricated an 18 ft dia. heatshield covered with 14 carat gold., I thought it was an aerodynamic problem with the turbopump exhaust. I had fabricated a new “exhaust pipe”, tested it at Edwards AFB, and flew to Cape Canaveral with the part. It was installed, I was designated the official Air Force observer to report to Maj. Lee Thornton in Inglewood, CA. SEVEN(7) minutes after my report, President Eisenhower announced to the NATO Foreign Ministers in Paris that the United States had successfully launched its first successful Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. This was my 35th birthday, December l9,1957.
  11. I talked with Brig. Gen. Charles A. Lindberg concerning an Atlas Missile explosion which destroyed a launch pad at Cape Canaveral.
  12. I saved Marina del Rey from physical and financial destruction. The LA Times headline said “Stormy Pacific Makes Boater’s Headache Out of Dream Marina”. As President of the Civic Union of Playa, I convinced the County supervisors not to sink old Liberty ships in the main channel but to install a detached breakwater of my design and then I got Congress to pass a bill paying for half of it. The Army Corps of Engineers built the detached breakwater. The only damage to this breakwater was the flagpole in a storm that damaged all the other breakwaters and piers from Santa Monica to Long Beach.
  13. As Chairman of the Nuclear Reactor Safeguards Committee of Northrop’s TRIGA Reactor in Hawthorne, CA, I wrote, through AEC Channels, to the then Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Glenn Seaborg, explaining why the AEC Nuclear Reactor Safeguards Program was not “Fail Safe”.
  14. I invented (4 U.S. patents plus Canadian, German, and Japanese Patents) the first Flue Gas Desulfurization System (FGD System or “scrubber”) to achieve the Nat’l Acad. Of Science/Nat’l Acad. Of Engineering’s criteria of “operational reliability” over one years operation at a size over 100 megawatts. This was achieved by the 170mw WEIR Scrubber at the coal-fired Mohave Generating Station at Laughlin, Nev. At the time, it was the largest SO2 removal scrubber operating in the world. Today there are 4000 mw of WEIR Scrubbers operating in 5 states preventing about 80 tons of SO2 from entering the atmosphere and a greater amount of micron and submicron particulate matter (fly ash). In 1980, the WEIR scrubbers at the Coronado 700mw Generating Station (New Mexico) received Power’s (Power Magazine) Environmental Protection Award while in 1985, EPA Region 5 awarded its “Excellence in Sulfur Dioxide Control” award to the Gibson Station (Public Service of Indiana).
  15. My studies forced the State of Nevada, and later, the EPA to abandon the Ringlemann Number as a measure of plume opacity. I showed that opacity was a function not only of stack diameter, but also Latitude, Time of Day, Season of the Year and other factors. This was first presented in a 1975 symposium sponsored by the United Nations World Health Organization + 10 others including ACS. This work was later published in Env. Sci.& Tech. 10,539,l976 and a second paper in the same journal 11,561,1977.
  16. I presented the results of the first use of methanol as fuel in a utility gas turbine in a paper entitled “NOx Emissions from Synfuel Combustion” which was later published by AIChE in Chem. Eng. Prog. May 1981, p92. Several years later, I presented the results of methanol use in a 44 mw boiler and even later, the results in larger (ca. 500 mw) boilers at an ASME meeting in June, 1986 in Columbus, Ohio. All told our experiments used about 4 million gallons of methanol. I was very pleased that my 1946 MChE thesis chairman at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, Dr. Donald F. Othmer, came all the way to Columbus just to hear my paper.
  17. The Coolwater Coal Gasification Program (coal to Med Btu gas to 92mw of electricity) was funded by So.Calif. Edison, Texaco, Electric Power Research Institute, General Electric, Bechtel, and a consortium of 7 Japanese companies with one vote. The construction was managed by a Management Committee. However, the Chairman of the Management Committee, an SCE employee, reported to me at Edison. The plant was completed three months ahead of schedule and $3 million under the $300 million budget.
  18. I was nominated in 1999 to the National Inventors Hall of Fame by EPA’s Director of Air Pollution Prevention and Control Division. My nomination was seconded by both the ACS and the AIChE. Walt Disney won that year.

A portion of this was presented November 17, 2007 at a recognition luncheon for 50 and 60 year members of the Southern California Section of the American Chemical Society.

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