Chemistry and Physics Hall of Fame dedicated - Jan 22, 2014 - UW-Superior Alumni - UW-Superior News and Events

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Chemistry and Physics Hall of Fame dedicated

Posted on Jan 22, 2014
Hall members recall 'Dr. Bow Tie', Horton exams, King of the Circular Slide Rule and more.
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Chemistry and Physics Hall of Fame dedicated

Three years ago, the UW-Superior chemistry and physics department began accepting nominations for a unique Hall of Fame. Located in Barstow Hall, the display showcases the talents and contributions of some of our brightest alumni and former faculty.

The display, which was dedicated today, will be updated periodically. It now showcases 14 of the following 18 inductees:

John Jackobs, Class of 1961
John Bremer, Class of 1965
David Larson, Class of 1965

Dennis Quinn, Class of 1967
Harold (Hal) Mattson, Class of 1968
Dan Little, Class of 1969
Blaine Diesslin, Class of 1971
Gregg Zank, Class of 1981
Jennifer Maki, Class of 2000
Luke Hafdahl, Class of 2006
Jeremy Niskala, Class of 2006
Howard Thomas, Former Faculty
Philip Brieske, Former Faculty
Myron Schneiderwent, Former Faculty
Ronald Roubal, Former Faculty
Nathan Coward, Former Faculty
Donald Bahnick, Former Faculty
Joseph Horton, Former Faculty

In December, the Hall of Fame added five chemistry professors from the 1950s-1980s era who had a significant impact on the lives of UW-Superior students.

For those who can't view the display in person, the bios of these professors are listed below, along with quotes from alumni. The department also welcomes any additional information alumni and friends may have on these professors, as well as nominations for future inductees. Please contact Dr. Michael Waxman at 715-394-8261 or

Howard Thomas, PhD

Dean Neumann: "I did have courses from both Dr. Thomas and Dr. Horton at UWS. They were really excellent teachers. I did have a nice connection with Dr. Thomas, as I was in the AFROTC program at the time. With my encouragement, he would reminisce about his experiences flying "the hump" into China during the war." 

Gregg Zank: "He was head of the department when I was a student and was a very good teacher. I recall his love of golf and I think he even owned a small par three golf course after he retired. He taught the organic separations or analytical methods in organic chem. Where you had to purify and use physical properties of compounds and make a derivative with a simple organic transformation to show what the unknown material was. My final mixture he gave me ortho, meta and para nitro phenol. I think the entire faculty knew what I had and I worked on separating and purifying and characterizing the components for a week or more. I got two right but missed the third and it taught me to see the forest for the trees if I had only thought through what the first two were pointing me towards."

John Bremmer: "I took my first three semesters of Chemistry from him. He taught General Chemistry (Inorganic) and Qualitative Analysis. He was a great Mentor for 1st & 2nd year Students and dispelling the fears of the tough science of Chemistry. He convinced me that a Major in Chemistry and Math was the way to step from the farm environment into the scientific environment. He took all the Medical Technology Students under his wing and tutored them in Chemistry and how to study...Saved a lot of students. He was the King of the circular slide rule (we all had one & used it with vigor) and Burlington's Handbook of Mathematical Tables and Formulas (mine is worn, stained and dog-eared). Still have both and can used them. Chuckle as they are the things that both my kid's have ask for when I pass. Neither has used a slide rule but understand the theory. Both think using logarithms for calculations is a time waster!!! If true, I wasted a lot of time. 

He was always looking for new concepts & projects and would discuss his pipe-thought's during lecture and lab. He was always in the lab. The System's Approach Concept & Method was key to process when I did my Master's work in Systems Engineering at USC & Johns Hopkins. I believe that Dr. Thomas was on the leading tenets & edge of this work with his concept development. It would be interesting to get into his 'thought' notes & papers and to find his ideas."

Dan Little: "I did not have a single class from Howard, but his influence on me has been enormous. I recall my father being impressed and grateful to receive a phone call from Howard, encouraging me to major in chemistry - and this before the school year even started. I recall the delightful rides in Howard's VW bug- all the way from Vermillion, South Dakota to Superior. And having an opportunity to get to know him on a personal level. At one point, he was stationed on the Marine Base in Santa Barbara, CA. Little did I know that I would wind up living in Santa Barbara. Occasionally I still see a building from the 'Marine Days'. 

Howard showed each of us, by his example and that of his family, how a faculty member can create a cordial and nurturing atmosphere, while at the same time being academically demanding and intellectually stimulating. Howard and his wife Mary used to open the doors to their home and invite members of the Chem Club over for dinner. I recall feeling 'special', and honored by the opportunity to do so. Howard and the other members of the Chem. faculty, made me aware of many opportunities beyond the hallowed halls of UWS -like summer NSF-URP programs at several schools around the US, and Argonne National Laboratory. Howard "insisted"that I choose the University of South Dakota for my two URP summers. After all, his friend Charles Estee was the Chair, and Howard had spent time teaching at USD. Great choice!"


Al Coward, PhD

Gregg Zank: "He was definitely tough but fair. I would even say intimidating at first meeting, with his deep voice. What an excellent teacher and wonderful man to have known and worked with in the stockroom and labs. I still remember his teaching us on "number bias" at the end of analytical chemistry and that we all have that and being aware of that."

John Bremer: "He was an independent, non-crowd & tradition follower. Never saw him in a tie and seldom in a white shirt & coat. He was in the trenches with his students. He always was always teaching the Scientific Method approach to Problem Solving. One of the four main elements I took from UWS and still use today. He always chewed on his pipe - in his office, in the hallways, in lecture or in the lab! He was the 'Guru' of Physical Chemistry and 'Bear' of Quantitative Analysis. Master of the right way and policeman of the wrong-way. 

I learned a lot - some absorption and some force-feed!. He never 'dumb-downed' his classes and was my Mentor to step into the Concept Development portion of Systems Engineering. He was a disciple of integrating Chemistry and Mathematics. Glad I grabbed the approach as it has made for three successful careers. We respectfully called him Dr. 'Gravel-Voice'. He was always over your shoulder teaching even when he was giving a test. Dr. Coward is my most memorable Instructor at UWS. His capabilities and brilliance was on the par to Ben Rich and Steve Jobs."

Dan Little: "I learned so much from Al. Like how to maintain a proper notebook, about the importance of recording data directly into one's notebook, of the proper way to acknowledge an error (a single diagonal line through the error accompanied by one's initials and the date; never erase (!)), the reason(s) why it was/is important to maintain a lab notebook thusly. I still do so! 

I recall being surprised by the format for one advanced p-chem exam. We entered the room and found molecular models - a dozen or so - placed on desks scattered throughout the room. Our task was to examine each model, record each element of symmetry, and classify each structure according to its point group symmetry. There were only three students in the class, so this activity was logistically feasible. No one did well! We were given a makeup exam. Happily, the outcomes were much improved. I remember attending church in South Superior one Sunday only to discover that Al was the speaker. I recall Al trying to convince me that the University of Rochester would be a good choice for graduate school. I didn't attend UR, but have since come to realize that Al was correct (again J) - it is a terrific school. And now, my son and his family live in Rochester. Small world."


Ronald Roubal, PhD

Gregg Zank: "He was a real mentor for me. He pushed me to take on opportunities like the NSF fellow at Minnesota and that was influential for me heading to Graduate School. One funny story is he complained about being department head and not having a bigger or more plush office than any of his colleagues so one evening with some other faculty help some of us installed shag carpeting in his office for him."

Dan Little: " I recall the afternoon when he stopped into the lecture hall (Barstow 305, I believe) where Chem 10 was ongoing, and called out my name. Seems I'd 'passed out' of Chem 10 and was going to be in his Chem 20 class. I recall looking at the text and thinking - I'm supposed to know all this already? No way! I recall riding in Ron's station wagon, along with Stanley Beckman (deceased) over to UMD - I believe it was for an ACS local section meeting/presentation. I felt pretty special. Ron mentioned Luanne Hunter, and indicated that she was an outstanding student. How true! We are friends to this day. 

I believe it was Ron who started a 'book purchase effort' designed to allow us to choose/order chemistry books from a much larger array than was available through the bookstore. Upon his recommendation I purchased several books … including one that I found myself reading just the other day! (… a P-chem text by some gents from Notre Dame - Hamill, Williams, and MacKay). Was reading through sections dealing with stat mech and transition state theory, and reviewing the 'need'for the Boltzmann constant. I remember how young he was - I believe I was in some of his first classes. And those mornings when he came to class - only to begin by mentioning something that happened on the 'Tonight Show' the previous eve." 

Donald Bahnick, PhD

Gregg Zank: "He was likely the smartest of the faculty. He was very mild mannered and fair and great with students. His Physical Chemistry course was of course very difficult and a true test for all. When I worked with him in the water quality area I got to see just how much fun he was and how he enjoyed life and wanted to have a great time. He was a wonderful professor and a great man and taught me a lot about chemistry and life."

Dan Little: "My goodness was I surprised when our first P-Chem lab report was returned. A "D"! I'd never had one of "those". He sure got my attention! I had to buckle down. I'm most appreciative of the 'wake-up call'. Exams - they were tough, but fair. I still relate a story to some of my current students … an experience I had during a p-chem final. I was prepared, or so I thought. Then I read the 1st question. Hmm - it wasn't obvious how to solve it. So I went on to the next question. Same outcome. And so it continued … throughout the entire exam! It was time for me to chat ... with myself. To say, "Ok, calm down. Approach each problem systematically and carefully. Do what you can." Another learning experience."


Joseph Horton, PhD

Gregg Zank: "What an amazing master of organic chemistry text and practical lab. He was so very impressive in his mastery of organic chemistry. I do not think that there was any reaction he did not really know or understand. He was a great lecturer and in a 50 minute lecture he would completely fill all the chalk boards (and this is the time when they were three deep sliding behind one another) and you wrote constantly. The tests were tough but fair he really excelled in the lab working with students and he enjoyed this every minute."

John Bremer: "We knew him as Dr. Bow-Tie! Never saw him when he wasn't dressed in a bow-tie, white shirt and dress coat. I took Organic Chemistry and Independent Research from him. Chuckle as he thought I was too interested in new explosives concepts! Lockheed Martin and the USAF had the opposite thoughts! - He was known for always answering a question with a question or another approach/alternative to a road-block. I believe that he accomplished some of the basic research on the 'Bucky-Ball' Concept process developed at Rice University. He loved the lab and finding new approaches & discoveries. He was quiet in demeanor, always thinking and treated everyone with respect."

Dan Little: "Such flare, such a 'showman', and such a wonderful and talented professor! The bow tie, the red vest! During the 1st semester of organic I recall thinking that I thought he knew every possible organic reaction in existence. His knowledge seemed encyclopedic. Through Joe's skill and patience, I eventually began to recognize patterns. What a pleasant revelation.  

During the 2nd semester, Joe warned us that we were about to encounter a 'demanding section', it dealing with condensation reactions. It seemed as though there was an endless series of named reactions (now I know it's true!) …variations on a theme. I recall asking him how to study for the next exam. Were we to focus upon being able to recognize each reaction, upon the mechanism, know how to use each reaction in a multistep synthetic scheme? His response - "yes". Each of the items! Ruined more than one weekend - studying for"Horton exams".  But it paid off."




News Contact: Heather Thompson | 715-394-8452 | hthomps9{atuws}
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