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Alumni Spotlights

Dr. Francis Waller, '65: Discovering New Knowledge

  • on March 19, 2012
  • by Lisa M. McMahon, MA'09

Like many people of his generation, Dr. Francis Waller, '65, remembers exactly where he was when John F. Kennedy was assassinated "in professor Joe Forrester's Organic Chemistry class. It was 1:25 p.m. on that November afternoon when someone came into the lecture room to announce that Kennedy had been shot and killed in Texas."

Forrester's class was memorable to Fran for another, more personal reason as well. It was what inspired him to pursue work in the chemical industry. “I owe my professional career to the great job you did in Organic Chemistry,” Fran wrote in a letter to the professor in 2009.

Although Fran had aspired to become a scientist ever since an eighth-grade science fair project instilled in him a desire to “discover new knowledge,” it was Forrester's expertise, outstanding intuitive reasoning skills, and passion for teaching that motivated Fran to focus on organic chemistry. When he took Forrester's advanced organic course as a senior, it “sealed my fate to go on for my Ph.D. in organic chemistry,” he says.

After earning his Ph.D. from the University of Vermont in 1970, Fran taught at the university level for a couple of years before starting his industrial career at the Experimental Station of E.I. duPont deNemours and Company in Wilmington, Del. He spent 14 years there, primarily as a project leader in the Central Research and Development Department, before joining Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., where he rose to the rank of senior research associate within their Corporate Science and Technology Center. He retired in 2005.

During his career, Fran published 70 scientific articles and was granted 45 U.S. and 23 foreign patents, including one that improved the light emitting properties of LEDs. “These LEDs are the upcoming O (organic) LEDs and P (polymer) LEDs of the future found in phone displays and TVs,” he notes.

Fran's experience in obtaining patents and his realization that new scientists entering the workforce typically have no training in the basics of intellectual property encouraged him to develop and teach a one-day short course for the American Chemical Society on “Practical Approaches to Patents and Other Forms of Intellectual Property.” The course, which he still teaches, led in 2011 to the book Writing Chemistry Patents and Intellectual Property: A Practical Guide, published by Wiley, which he wrote with the desire to assist inventors in their work with patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets.

“A book about intellectual property from a user's point of view seemed reasonable,” Fran explains. “Many of the existing books are written by attorneys. I hope my book will fill the gap for science practitioners who need the basic fundamentals to build a working knowledge to write chemistry-related patent applications and have a productive interaction with a patent attorney.”

Professor Forrester and his other NU professors inspired Fran to become a teacher, as well. “The teachers at Niagara were very passionate about their subject matter and that allowed them to become very enthusiastic about how they delivered it,” Fran says. He has followed their example by sharing his passion for organic chemistry with graduate and undergraduate students at Lehigh University, where he taught from 1993 until 2008.

He also enjoys working with younger students and has mentored them as a judge at local, regional, and international science fairs. In addition, while at Air Products, he was a member of a team of scientists who participated in the “Growing with Science” program at an Allentown, Pa., elementary school. The scientists worked with students on science modules and developed science lessons for the teachers.

“I believe it is important for people who have specialized knowledge to give back to the community,” Fran says. “In my case, it is conveying to young people the scientific method.”

In recognition of his volunteer work with the young students, Fran received both the Community Service Award from the Allentown Sertoma Club and the Spurgen Award from the Boy Scouts of America in 1998, and was inducted into the DaVinci Science Center's Hall of Fame a year later.

His professional work has been recognized as well. Fran was honored with the Paul Rylander Award by the Organic Reactions Catalysis Society in 2001, and is a past recipient of the Catalysis Club of Philadelphia Award.

Fran credits his Niagara education, its emphasis on values, and his NU professors with his success. In addition to Forrester, he names several other memorable professors: “Mr. Feder, who proved to me that physics laboratory reports do require at least 15 hours to complete; Ms. Betty Kimmel, who taught me differential equations which I still use today; Mr. William McVernon, who persevered with my questions between 8 to 9 a.m. before he had his coffee; and Mr. Daniel McGuire, who taught me failure was not an option. It is these and many other NU faculty to whom I am indebted for making me who I am today.”