The Texas A&M Chemistry Class of 1976 (from left:) John Beckerdite, Elliott Bay, Donald Slater, Mike Killough, Tonalee Key, Pat Killough, David Hayes, Jerry Hunt and Alex Haas. (Credit: Dr. Simon North.)


The October 21-22 presentation of the 2016 A.I. Scott Medal for Excellence in Biological Chemistry Research at Texas A&M University was unique by any standard -- not only because it featured an extra day in celebration of Scott as one of the trailblazers of Texas A&M Chemistry during its past 50 years as a department within the College of Science, but also because it coincided with the 40-year reunion for a group of chemistry former students from the Class of 1976 along with a bonus two from the Class of 1975.

Eleven former students were represented in the group that Texas A&M Department of Chemistry Head Simon North described in a single word: amazing.

"These former students have made impressive contributions in their careers and demonstrate the exciting range of opportunities available to our current chemistry students," North said. "I was delighted to meet with this wonderful group and to show them around the department."

"We are always proud of the accomplishments of our former students, and this group sets an especially high bar for our current students to emulate," added Dr. Holly C. Gaede, instructional assistant professor of chemistry and undergraduate advisor for Texas A&M Chemistry. "We are grateful for the service they have provided to our department in the spirit of selflessness, and we value their continuing contributions enormously."

As the saying goes, it takes one to know one, so we're taking it from one who knows it best: Tonalee Carlson Key. Included below is her first-person summary of the gathering:

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2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the Class of 1976. Nine chemistry majors from that class and two from '75 gathered in October for a reunion weekend.

The May 1976 B.S. chemistry graduates include: Elliott Bay, John Beckerdite, Kevin Dick, Bobby Grigsby, Alex Haas, David Hayes, Fred Jensen and Tonalee Carlson Key. John, David, Bobby and Tonalee all started in 1972 as B.S. chemistry majors. Alex and Elliott started as chemical engineering and physics majors, respectively, but shifted to B.S. chemistry after their freshman year. We were unable to contact Kevin or Fred.

Donald Slater started as a B.S. chemistry major participating in the work/study program. The six months of classes and six months of work made it difficult to take some B.S. courses, so he switched to the B.A. chemistry program. He graduated with a B.A. chemistry degree in August 1976.

Jerry Hunt was a B.A. chemistry major and graduated in December 1975. John Fraser started as a math major and switched to the B.A. chemistry program after freshman year. He graduated in May 1975.

Mike and Pat Killough started as B.S. chemistry majors and graduated in May 1975.

Of these eleven, six received Ph.D.s, one an M.S., one a second B.S. and one an M.D. Seven work(ed) in the chemical industry, one spent his career at a national laboratory, one is a doctor, one crossed from a chemistry to a geology career, and one was an environmental scientist with a state agency.

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To add to the weekend fun and broader educational experience, we asked Key for a bit of past-present perspective pertaining to the then-and-now of Aggieland -- questions she posed to the reunion group. Her answers and that of her classmates Donald Slater and Elliott Bay are reflected in composite below.

"Our thoughts on Texas A&M today are very similar," Key said. "Our responses about the environment for new graduates offer some different viewpoints, since Donald went to work when he finished his B.A., Elliott went to work after he finished his Ph.D. and I worked in government."

What strikes you as the most different and also unchanged about Texas A&M today?
Tonalee: "The group found the heart of the campus we knew mostly unchanged. Many of the buildings had been updated or repurposed, the Fish Pond had been moved, and Law and Puryear dorms were gone. Of course, the biggest physical changes are around the edge of the 'old' main campus and the new campus across the railroad tracks. As Donald noted, 'even with the new buildings, the campus still had the old feeling.' While it was nice to visit on an away football game weekend, I missed getting to see students on campus. They are the soul of the university. But does anyone say howdy any more?

"Elliott also noted that the chemistry building is much larger. The classrooms are modern and Internet-connected with cable outlets and Wi-Fi boxes everywhere. Our connectivity 40 years ago was dial-up modem. He liked that some of the classrooms still had chalk blackboards. He was disappointed to hear that chemistry was no longer taught in Room 100. He was impressed, as were we all, with what the undergraduates are doing in the labs and that they are writing up the results in Journal of Physical Chemistry format."

Compare and contrast today's environment for newly minted chemistry grads with what you found yourselves facing 40 years ago as you embarked on your own promising futures.

Donald: "I think the most significant difference for new graduates is the Internet. I think it would make it easier to research companies and search for a job. I also feel the explosion of new technologies and scientific breakthroughs gives new graduates a wide variety of career opportunities."

Elliott: "The thing I found myself facing 40 years ago when I first started working in chemical industry was simply that I did not know how to do the job. I did know how to learn what I needed to know, and I did know how to approach and solve the problems put before me. These learning and problem-solving skills were taught to me at Texas A&M. I see the same thing in new chemistry graduates entering industry for the first time. I always tell them that no one expects them to walk in knowing exactly how to do the job, but they will be expected to learn to do it. Those who learn quickly and show creativity tend to excel in chemical industry. This is true for more than just chemistry.

"I have noticed that Ph.D. chemists in chemical industry have more of the leadership roles than the B.S. and M.S. chemists, but I believe the outlook for all degrees in chemistry is very good. Perhaps I am biased, but I believe chemistry is the most important of all the sciences. Understanding chemistry is the best place to begin if you want to make just about anything, from pharmaceuticals to glass fiber.

"I see materials science as an up and coming part of chemical industry. Look at what has happened with high performance engineered materials and things like batteries and flat-screen displays over the past 20 years. My definition of chemistry also includes biochemistry. DNA technology is currently changing the world, and these changes are accelerating. Knowing what I know now, DNA technology is the chemistry I would pursue if I had it all to do again."

Tonalee: "I wholeheartedly agree with Elliott that the the most valuable lesson I learned in my chemistry studies was how to think my way through a problem. It was an essential skill for the environmental work I did. Environmental problems almost always involve multiple subject areas. For example, in air quality, there are the sources, atmospheric chemistry, meteorology and health effects, to name a few. You need to think and work along multiple avenues to address the problem on which you are working. I think the environmental issues we are working on today are more complex and interesting than when I started 30 years ago."

Brief biographies for all the attendees as compiled by Key appear below:

John Beckerdite
After graduation, I joined the Food Protein R&D group within the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES). After a stint with this organization ,I entered the graduate chemistry program at Texas A&M. Upon receiving my Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1983, I joined The Dow Chemical Company in the Oyster Creek Research division. During my 27-year career at Dow, I held a variety of R&D positions in process and product development, and also served as the Senior Intellectual Capital Leader for the Performance Materials division. In my business roles, I led R&D for the amines and oxygenated solvents businesses. After retiring from Dow, I joined Exothermix, a maker of chemically-based self-heating products, as their Chief Technology Officer. I retired from Exothermix in 2016 and currently serve as an Entrepreneur in Residence for the Commercialization and Entrepreneurship division within TEES (yes, I ended up back where I started), where I vet new technologies and manage the TEES intellectual property portfolio. I am also principal and founder of P&N Technology Consulting which provides intellectual property strategy and analysis in the physical and natural sciences.

Alex Haas
Two weeks after graduation, I joined CSA Limited in Houston as an Analytical Chemist/QA Supervisor. I was responsible for the activities of lab technicians and production QA personnel and day-to-day operation of the QA lab. I worked at CSA for five years and then moved to the Henkel Corporation in Kenedy, Texas. Henkel evolved into Aqualon, Hercules and finally Ashland. I worked in various positions including QA Supervisor, QA Manager, IT Manager, Business Manager and as a Corporate Account Manager in sales. I was responsible for the plant's QA activities, GMP compliance, ISO 9000 compliance, acquisition of raw materials and later, sales of guar and cellulosic products. My primary sales responsibility was to the oilfield industry, where products were used in stimulation, drilling, cementing, and gas migration control. I retired in 2014 after 33 years with the company.

David Hayes
After graduation, I went to work for the engineering consulting firm Radian Corporation. I spent my career at Radian and its subsequent evolutions except for one year at Underground Resource Management as an analyst. Radian evolved into URS, and the routine analytical labs section was sold to Severn Trent. Eventually Severn Trent was bought by TestAmerica. I was with TestAmerica until they shut down the Austin lab in 2015 and I decided to retire. While at Radian, I did some sampling at refineries and coal gasification plants, but mostly, I did chemistry lab work, starting with metals analysis and wet chemistry and, eventually, I wound up in the organics area doing extractions and GCMS and GC analysis. At Severn Trent, I continued doing extractions and GCMS analysis and was also a supervisor. At TestAmerica, I moved into the air analysis group, doing mostly data workup and reporting.

Elliott Bay
I received my Ph.D. in 1980 from Texas A&M in organic chemistry working with Patrick Mariano. I accepted a postgraduate position working with Leo Paquette at Ohio State University. In 1982, I joined Stauffer Chemical Company at their research facility in Dobbs Ferry, New York. At the time, I was not so sure about doing process chemistry. As it turned out, I really liked process chemistry, and it is now the chemistry that I prefer. I find it extremely interesting to figure out how to efficiently and safely scale chemical processes into production plants. Over the past 34 years, I have worked with multiple chemical and pharmaceutical companies and have worked on everything from AIDS drugs to chemical light sticks. I currently work at MannKind Corporation developing an inhaled insulin for the treatment of diabetes. I also volunteer my time helping pharmaceutical companies in Africa scale up production.

Bobby Grigsby
I received my Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Texas A&M in 1980. I then did a postdoc at ORN where I synthesized radioactive fatty acids and barbiturates for imaging the heart and brain. Then I went to work at Texaco Chemical in Austin, Texas, where I worked for many years on polyurea RIM and urethane catalyst. John Huntsman bought Texaco Chemical in 1994. In 2015, Huntsman moved the labs to The Woodlands. I am currently in a somewhat managerial role, having managed R&D activities in gas-treat chemicals, fuel additives, epoxy amine products and urethane amine catalysts. I currently have the third-most number of years with the company, including Texaco Chemical, at the R&D facility.

Tonalee Carlson Key
I received an M.S. in oceanography from Texas A&M in 1980. An interest in oceanography was what brought me to Texas A&M. Chemistry was a detour to get me into graduate school, but my study and degree in chemistry would prove to be the cornerstone of my career. I enjoyed oceanographic fieldwork (cruises, although I suffered from sea sickness) and understanding how the geology, physics of ocean systems (currents) and even biology affected the chemistry research I conducted but did not feel that oceanography was my career path. Next I spent four years at Princeton University as a research associate in the Geology Department with David Crerar's geochemistry group. While an interesting area of study, this experience convinced me that neither a Ph.D. nor academia were part of my career path. The discovery of radon in homes in Pennsylvania in 1985 started me on a 24-year public service career with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. I went to work with the Department in 1986, first in the radon lab and then as head of the Radon Research and Outreach group. This position offered me the opportunity to work on federal legislation, state and federal regulations, and with regulated communities, federal agencies and the public. This position introduced me to public policy, which allowed me to combine my science background with an interest in a variety of fields. In 1999 I moved into the Air Quality Program, where I helped develop plans to attain the federal air quality standards, directed air quality modeling activities and participated in Northeast U.S. regional air quality planning efforts. The last three years of my career were spent with the Environment and Historic Preservation Review Program in support of Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts. Environmental reviews are required before federal funds can be awarded to homeowners or businesses. This program completed more than 10,000 environmental reviews in approximately two years. I found public service to be very interesting but very challenging. I retired in 2016.

Donald Slater
After graduation, my first job was as a chemist for Wyoming Mineral Corp., a uranium solution mining company in South Texas. After a year and a half, I tired of living in South Texas and returned to Texas A&M, receiving a geology degree in December 1978. Geology had been my minor when I studied for my chemistry degree. I worked for one of my geology professors at A&M for about a year while looking for a job. I then joined Mobil Oil as a lab technician in the core analysis division. Later I joined the geochemistry department at Sun Oil. Sun Oil closed their geochemistry department, and I transferred to the exploration division doing geologic support. In 1992 I was laid off and could not find work that interested me, so in 1994 I opened a rock shop, Nature's Gallery, in Carrollton, Texas. Having a rock shop was always a passion and something I wanted to do after retirement, but circumstances accelerated those plans. Shortly after opening my business, I worked part-time as a consultant for Core Laboratories in the geochemical lab for five years. Core Laboratories moved to Houston, and not wanting to move to Houston or close the shop, I became a full time shopkeeper, and I love it.

Jerry Hunt
I received my Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Texas A&M in 1980. I joined the research group of J.J. Katz at Argonne National Laboratory in 1980 in photosynthesis and photochemistry and began a career as a researcher in the Argonne Chemistry Division. I am currently the associate division director of the Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division and a staff scientist at Argonne. I have a broad background in physical and analytical chemistry with more than 35 years of experience in energy research and technical program development and management. In addition to my division management role, where I have management responsibility for operations and programs, I have led and coordinated science programming for new buildings for energy sciences at Argonne. My research interests include the application of scattering methods for materials analysis, the study of the mechanisms of ion and laser assisted molecule desorption, nonlinear-energy loss processes of ions in materials, and organic mass spectrometry of large molecules and clusters. The Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division (CSE) is a science-based research, development and early-stage engineering organization that conducts both fundamental and applied research using experimental, theoretical and computational approaches. CSE's staff has formal training in chemistry; physics; materials science; and electrical, mechanical, chemical, and nuclear engineering. They are specialists in catalysis; gas phase chemistry; photo-driven chemistry; electrochemical systems (batteries and fuel cells); heavy element chemistry; and time-resolved, multi-scale and ultra-fast chemistry using synchrotron x-rays. CSE research and development is distinguished by the development and application of fundamental understanding to yield transformational solutions that address issues of scientific and technological importance to the Department of Energy and the nation.

John Fraser
I received an M.D. from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in 1979. I completed my pediatric residency at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City in 1982. I was a U.S. Public Health Service commissioned officer 1982-84 in Harlingen, Texas, and then had a private pediatric practice in Harlingen from 1984-87. From 1987-90, I was assistant medical educator for ambulatory care at Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi. In 1990, I moved to Houston for graduate school in a JD/MPH program at University of Texas School of Public Health and University of Houston Law Center, finishing in 1996. During this time I practiced full time at the University of Houston, then established a private practice and in 1993 returned to academic medicine. From 1993-2013, I was full-time faculty with the University of Texas Medical School and UTMB in pediatric emergency medicine and preventive medicine and community health. During this time period, I joined the Army Reserve in 2002 as a major and was discharged in 2013 as a colonel. I was in Kuwait on the third day of Iraqi Freedom and spent a month in Iraq. Later in 2007, I did a three-month tour in the hospital at Fort Polk, Louisiana. I retired from UTMB in 2013 as professor emeritus. Since then, I have been in private practice in pediatric urgent care medicine.

Mike Killough
I received my Ph.D in organic chemistry from Texas A&M in 1979 working with Dave Bergbreiter. I have 30-plus years of experience working at Gulf Oil, Allied Chemical, Soltex, Solvay Polymers, BP Solvay Polyethylene and INEOS Olefins & Polymers in polyolefin catalysis, high-density polyethylene and polypropylene product and market development, product management, sales and marketing, strategic planning and knowledge management. I am currently a Chemist Advisor/Six Sigma Black Belt at INEOS Olefins & Polymers USA focused on developing solutions for markets and customers in both new and traditional market areas in order to position INEOS O&P for strong growth in both the current market cycle and the next down cycle. I am also INEOS O&P's Lead Recruiter for Texas A&M.

Pat Killough
I received my Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Texas A&M in 1982, then did a two year postdoc with Ronald Hester at the University of York, Heslington, North Yorkshire, UK. That work involved applications of Raman, resonance Raman and time-resolved resonance Raman spectroscopy and was primarily conducted at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford, UK. One of the most important things I learned during my stint at the Rutherford Appleton lab was that I enjoyed working as part of a multi-functional team. I continued my Raman spectroscopy work in two more postdoctoral positions -- one with Dr. Atkinson at the University of Arizona and one at Los Alamos National Lab working with Dr. Woody Woodruff in the Isotope and Nuclear Chemistry (INC-4) group. In 1988, I started a 25-plus year career in the analytical department at Shell Development Company in Houston. My work at Shell has and continues to focus on problem solving. I have worked on a wide variety of problems involving not only petroleum but also hydraulic fluid used to operate the valves one mile and more deep in the ocean, elastomeric polymers in shoe soles and on the back of postage stamps, epoxy resins, contaminated fuels, and intermediates in chemical processes. My current work revolves around detection and quantification of ppb-level contaminants in ethylene and in hydrogen, and around detection and quantification of amines in overheads of distillation units as well as routine samples needed to keep various pilot plants running.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Simon W. North, (979) 845-4947 or north@chem.tamu.edu
  • (Back row, from left:) Mike Killough, Jerry Hunt and Donald Slater. (Front row, from left:) Pat Killough, Tonalee Key, Elliott Bay, David Hayes, John Beckerdite and Alex Haas. (Credit: Ann Haas.)

  • Class of 1976 plus two from the Class of 1975 (from left:) Bob Key and Tonalee Key, Donald Slater and Amanda Slater, Elliott Bay, Mike Killough, John Beckerdite, Jerry Hunt and Nadine Hunt, David Hayes, Pat Killough and Alex Haas. (Credit: Ann Haas.)

  • Texas A&M Chemistry Head Dr. Simon North (top of staircase) welcomes the group for the grand facilities tour. (Credit: Alex Haas.)

  • The group reminisces within Room 100 of the Chemistry Building, otherwise known as Arthur E. Martell Hall, as Dr. Martell himself (below) looks on via framed portrait at center on the room's back wall. (Credit: Alex Haas.)

  • (Credit: Alex Haas.)

  • Texas A&M Chemistry Associate Head Michael Rosynek (center beside exit door) regales the crowd with stories in Room 2100. (Credit: Alex Haas.)

  • The group, enjoying Sunday brunch at Hullabaloo Diner, joined by John Fraser (left). (Credit: Patty Fraser.)

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