The Early Days of CAMP

Recollections on the 20th anniversary of the founding of

the Center for Advanced Materials Processing at Clarkson University


These are my memories, and as with most memories they are incomplete and will not always agree with the memories of others.


When I came to Clarkson in 1975, I had a dream to someday found a materials center here.  I was busy doing other things for 10 years, but in the mid 1980s IBM announced a competition for funding to initiate a materials center at a university.  We decided to compete. Jerrier (Jerry) Haddad, a senior vice president at IBM and Clarkson trustee, advised me to prominently mention our colloid chemistry activities, particularly those of Egon Matijevic, because these were widely known.  The Institute of Colloid and Surface Science was Clarkson’s principle claim to fame in those days, with an annual report that was widely circulated around the world. In spite of being advised that “this was a waste of time because Clarkson wasn’t big enough to compete,” in 1985 we received a grant of $12,000 from IBM for “Materials Processing Preparation.”   We were off and running.  In 1986 I resigned as chair of chemical engineering and was allowed to work full time on developing a materials center, with the encouragement and assistance of the Clarkson administration.  (One of the happiest times of my career.)  Dick Johnson and Mary Lynne Pfeifer in our Development Office arranged trips to various NY-based companies to solicit their support.  Behind the scenes, the trustees were doing a lot to help.  At a Colloid Institute meeting in the tiered “UN room” in Clarkson Hall, I described this effort to the assembled faculty members.  Milt Kerker said that “You know, don’t you, that the administration is using you.”  I replied that “Gee, I thought I was using the administration.”


Clarkson Vice President Tom Williamson led a lobbying effort to add Clarkson to the New York State universities receiving $1million per year from the State for Centers for Advanced Technology (CATs), which aimed to use science and technology for economic development.  (I still don’t know if this was Tom’s idea or that of President Alan Clark.)  It was my privilege to accompany Tom on some of his frequent trips to Albany, meeting with people in Governor Mario Cuomo’s administration, with legislators, and with their staff.  It was amazing to hear Tom describe the great contributions that could be made by the state-of-the-art cutting-edge technology available at Clarkson.  Amazing because Tom had a law degree and had been hired by Clarkson primarily for public relations.  I knew he didn’t really understand the technology, but he was quite convincing nonetheless.  He succeeded, and was named “Rookie of the Year” by the Albany lobbyist organization.  (He later hired Rob Wood to continue lobbying in Albany.)


Tom’s efforts led to enabling legislation aimed at a CAT for “materials -- colloid and surface science,” knowing that this would practically guarantee Clarkson would win any competition.  (At the same time, Alfred was included via another CAT that would be aimed at ceramics, their historic strength.)  The first concrete manifestation of Tom’s success was a grant of $400,000 in early 1987 through the New York State Science and Technology Foundation for “Planning and Program Development of a Center for Advanced Technology.”  We used this to purchase some key equipment, work on a proposal for a CAT, and meet with key New York based companies, such as Corning, Kodak, Xerox, IBM, GE.  I vividly recall sitting on the couch in Tom’s office in old Snell Hall with Graham Jones, the head of the NY Science and Technology Foundation, who said we needed a catchy name, preferably with an easy-to-remember acronym.  At some point, I said “This would be funny; the Center for Advanced Materials Processing -- CAMP.”   We never managed to come up with anything better.


At the same time all of this was going on, Fred Carlson and I also began participating in an effort to gain a Center for the Commercial Development of Space (CCDS) for New York from NASA, in a second round of competitions.  Grumman Aerospace in Bethpage was encouraging this effort, which would be led by Brookhaven National Laboratory, also on Long Island.   The emphasis would be on crystal growth, which was my long-time specialty and something Fred had been working on in recent years.  RPI, WPI and Clarkson were asked to participate, with Grumman, Westinghouse, Boeing, and Rockwell interested in supporting such a CCDS.  However, at a meeting on Long Island attended by Fred, it was announced that NASA would not allow national laboratories to head CCDS’s.  Since this was to be a New York State program, development of a proposal and any resulting center would instead have to be led either by RPI or by Clarkson.  The representatives from RPI said that if Clarkson wanted it, we could have it (probably thinking that the time was so short that it was hopeless).  We decided to give it a try.  Grumman turned over their amazing proposal preparation center to us, including personnel to type, edit, prepare graphics, print, bind and mail the final document.  From Grumman’s center, over the phone I dictated a support letter from Vincent Tese, Cuomo’s head of economic development, promising $200,000 per year (which presumably would come from the $1 million that Clarkson would receive for a CAT, if indeed we got one).  Much to our delight and surprise, we succeeded and received our first $1 million from NASA in 1986 for our Consortium for Commercial Crystal Growth in Space.  Over the years, most of this money was spent on subcontracts to the other CCDS members.


Meanwhile, we were preparing the enormous amount of paperwork required by NY for a CAT proposal.  Several other well-known NY universities contacted us to see if we planned to submit a proposal.  When they were told we were, they decided not even to try.  Tom’s strategy of wiring the CAT to “materials -- colloid and surface science,” had succeeded.  Each copy of our proposal was about 2-feet high, consisting mostly of reprints of recent faculty publications but with huge tabulations of data, goals, objectives, etc.  (That’s when I learned the difference between goals and objectives.)  The many copies required were assembled with lots of help in the old Snell Hall Board room and the adjacent President’s office.  These filled a van that Helen Chapple and her son drove to Albany the next day to meet the deadline! 


When Science and Tech “decided” to fund our CAT, we were called to Albany to talk to the officials at the Science and Technology Foundation about how the CAT would be managed.  That meeting was when I first learned that government bureaucracies are not thrilled when something is imposed on them by a legislature or by congress.  They were even less pleased to learn that $200,000 of the $1million had already been committed to our NASA CCDS.  We  promised that this would be spent only for research at Clarkson and that it would be reduced by $20,000 per year.  While it lasted, several professors benefited from this and other CCDS funding, including Fred Carlson, Dary Aidun, John Moosbrugger, Dave Morrison, Iqbal Chaudhry, and Liya Regel. 


Our first $1 million for CAMP operations was received in 1987.  Later that year, I was appointed Dean of Engineering.  Another part of Tom Williamson’s achievement was funding for the CAMP building; $13.5 million as a grant, and $10 million as a 30-year no-interest loan, all to be managed by the Urban Development Corporation in NY City.  So planning began for the building.  An experienced construction engineer, Dick Parsons, was hired to oversee the planning and construction of both the CAMP building and the Cheel student center.  These were major efforts, with input from President Richard Gallagher, the trustees, the faculty, and myself. 


With the CAT funding assured, we began searching for an Associate Director for CAMP.  Preferably someone with industrial experience and the right personality to build corporate involvement, including a willingness to travel.  This was not simple, and we were extremely fortunate to find Ed McNamara, who was an Alfred ceramic engineer with many years of experience in the ceramics, refractories and abrasives industry.  Ed and I shared three small offices in Old Main with two secretaries.


In the review of CAMP by the Science and Technology Foundation in 1990, President Gallagher and I were told that it was an unacceptable conflict of interest for me to be CAMP Director while also serving as Dean and head of our NASA CCDS.  Dick decided it was time to recruit a new CAMP Director, and so Ray McKay took over the summer of 1991 as we were moving into the new CAMP building.  (It has caused no end of confusion for the Center and the building to carry the same name, but that stemmed from the way it was all sold by Tom and written into the legislation.)


The belief in manufacturing in space gradually evaporated after the Challenger explosion in 1986.  Finally, NASA terminated most of the CCDS’s, including ours, in 1995.  I resigned as dean the following year.  At a party arranged by President Denny Brown, I commented that “I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad I quit.”  A major source of satisfaction in all my management jobs at Clarkson has been helping other faculty members succeed, particularly the young professors.  But as my thesis adviser from Berkeley said many years ago, “The best job at a university is full professor – period.”


William R. (Bill) Wilcox

October 14, 2007