Dr. Harry W. Coover Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame

The NIHF medal.
I was privileged to attend the annual induction ceremony for the National Inventors Hall of FameTMin Akron, OH, on May 1. This prestigious black-tie affair honored 20 inventors who have been responsible for some of the great advances in technology that make human, social and economic progress possible. I attended the ceremony as the guest of Dr. Harry Coover, who was inducted for his invention of cyanoacrylate adhesives-the so-called "Super Glues."

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Association established the Hall of Fame in 1973; its first inductee was Thomas Edison. Coover joins the ranks of fellow inventors and innovators such as Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, and Samuel Morse, as well as George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak.

It is always a thrill to meet one's heroes. As a post-doctoral student at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, I worked on the polymerization mechanism and kinetics of cyanoacrylates, and a real hero emerged from my research of the literature - Harry Coover of Eastman Chemical, who discovered the adhesive properties of these unique materials. Little did I know that many years later I would meet and also work for this legend of the industry, become a partner in management consulting, and - most importantly - become a good friend.

Dr. Coover (far left), receiving medal from Anne Chasser, commissioner of Trademarks, U.S. Patents and Trademark Office, and Rick Nydegger, president, National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation.
With 460 patents and over 60 papers, Coover is one of the world's great inventors. He has also received numerous awards, including the Industrial Research Institute Medal Achievement Award, the Maurice Holland Award, the ACS Earl B. Barnes Award, and the AIC Chemical Pioneers Award.

In addition to the discovery of cyanoacrylates, Coover's achievements include the following.

  • Pioneering work in the field of graft polymerization, for conferring new properties on a polymer without degrading its desirable properties.
  • Research in organophosphorus chemistry that resulted in the development of insecticides and flame-resistant polymers.
  • Research in the field of olefin polymerizations, which included the discovery of the use of tri-component catalysts as a way of obtaining highly stereoregular polymers. The first commercial process for highly stereoregular polypropylene resulted from this work.
  • Catalyst research using syn-gas feedstocks that resulted in a process commercialized by Eastman for producing chemicals from coal. The ACS has designated the Eastman coal chemicals facility as a National Historic Chemical Landmark.

While taking part in the festivities, I did manage to sit down with Dr. Harry for a short interview.

DD: Harry, what does induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame mean to you and your family?

Coover: This indeed is a great honor for us for which I am duly proud and excited. It is truly wonderful recognition at the end of my professional career of over 60 years.

DD: The recent approval of cyanoacrylates for certain medical uses by the FDA must be particularly gratifying to you.

Coover: I couldn't be more pleased about this. I think it is a great step forward, and just the beginning of many new medical procedures, including the life-saving procedures that use the powerful haemostatic properties of cyanoacrylates. This saved many lives in the Vietnam War, and I certainly hope that it is being used now in Iraq and Afghanistan to stop the bleeding of wounded men and women until they can be transported to hospitals.

DD: What advice would you give to young scientists entering the chemical industry today and hoping to become research managers?

Coover: Don't underestimate the power of high expectations and the thrill of discovery. It is important that research managers have high expectations from their organizations in all their activities. Setting high expectations has been well documented to be self-fulfilling. The discovery of cyanoacrylates might well serve as a reminder to all of us to be more open-minded and curious enough to pursue unexplained events or unexpected results, all of which may unlock new secrets and lead to new and exciting discoveries.

DD: What must companies do to ensure future success in the adhesives and sealants industry?

Coover: It should be everyone's business in a company to ask penetrating, quality questions, which lead to new ideas. Ideas are the feedstock to new R&D projects. I have always been a champion of ways and means to maximize the productivity of inventions and innovations, and developed what I call Programmed Innovation-the principles and methodology for the organization, operations, and strategic planning for the achievement of technology, marketing, and business excellence. The energy and creativity of the people in a company is their only real competitive advantage, but they need to maintain a disciplined and focused organizational structure and operations methodology to maximize the impact of their creativity. Last, but not least, the economic viability of both large and small companies depends on their ability to continuously incorporate new science and technology; the graveyard is full of companies who failed to do so.

A highlight of the evening was seeing many previous inductees presented on stage at the end of the ceremony. What an incredible assembly of talent for what was aptly described as "the most important awards ceremony in the world." I was particularly thrilled to meet Steve "Woz" Wozniak, inventor of the Apple computer and a 2000 inductee.

Dr. Harry Coover is one of the true legends of the adhesive industry, and I know that I speak for many friends and colleagues when I thank him for his guidance, encouragement and friendship, and congratulate him for his wonderful achievement.

Dr. Dave Dunn is president of FLD Enterprises, a technical and management consultancy specializing in the adhesives and sealants industry (http://www.fldenterprises.com ). He is a former vice president and director of Loctite Corp. and writes ASI's monthly "Ask Dr. Dave" column. Together with Dr. Ethan C. Galloway, he nominated Dr. Coover for induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.