n 1976, when Mike Harris was a high school senior in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, he knew virtually nothing about ceramics, super-conductors, or Oak Ridge. What he did know for certain was that he loved chemistry and disliked English.
Seventeen years later, Harris has been recognized by Martin Marietta Energy Systems, Inc., for an invention at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that produces fine ceramic powders. These are useful for making high-temperature superconducting material and other products requiring a finely controlled microstructure. Ironically, this researcher who hated English has even won a Best Paper Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
Harris' dislike of English was so strong that it even affected his choice of a major at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi.
"During my senior year in high school," he says, "I thought of going into chemistry because my best subjects were science and math. One of the subjects I liked least was English. A recruiter came from Mississippi State and talked about chemical engineering. I learned from the recruiter that majoring in chemistry at Mississippi State required two years of English and a chemical engineering major required only one semester of English. So I said that's the one for me. I majored in chemical engineering, and I loved it."
Harris says that at least five professors at Mississippi State provided motivation, gave him advice, and encouraged him. One professor sent him a Christmas card urging him to "continue to broaden my sphere of perspective." He also was encouraged by his co-op experiences at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Athens, Georgia.
In 1981 Harris earned his B.S. degree in chemical engineering from Mississippi State and searched for a job. He interviewed for positions with Dow Chemical, Exxon, Proctor and Gamble, Mobil, Eastman Chemical, and numerous other companies.
Why did he end up working for ORNL?
"I didn't know anything about Oak Ridge when it was suggested that I interview here," he says. "It was my last interview. I had pretty much decided when I came here that I was going to work for Eastman Chemical. I met with Dr. Chuck Scott and several of his co-workers. They told me about the educational opportunities as well as the type of research I'd be doing.
I saw this as a perfect place for doing interesting research and working on an advanced degree. So I decided that, in terms of what I wanted, Oak Ridge was ideal for me."
Harris joined ORNL in 1981. He studied chemical engineering at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, earning an M.S. degree in 1987 and a Ph.D. degree in May 1992.
Since 1981 Harris has been author or coauthor of 22 scientific publications and has written a doctoral dissertation entitled "Ultrafine Powder Synthesis by Homogeneous Precipitation and Electrodispersion." Because he has written numerous papers, he now appreciates and respects English as a discipline.
Mike Harris has come a long way since his days in Mound Bayou. He knows a lot about ceramics, he appreciates Oak Ridge, and he is constantly broadening his "sphere of perspective" in the boundless arena of scientific research and technological development.--Carolyn Krause