Response to New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame Designation

William O. Baker

February 12, 1998

Thank you for the honor and pleasure of joining this distinguished community of the New Jersey Inventors Congress and Hall of Fame. Completing a decade of notable stimulus to invention and patenting, the present leadership of Chairman Harry Roman and Selection Committee Chair Dr. Eric Addeo stirs recall of valued origins of the assembly, Thus, the lively and perceptive role of Jim Blow, the skillful staffing of Lucye Millerand, and the warm hospitality of NJIT are strong causes of the respect held for the Inventors Congress.

 And indeed I feel a special privilege of association this evening with my esteemed associates from Lucent Technologies. Further, among others whom you have selected, a singular bond with education stands out. Namely, when Governor Hughes directed the late Edward Booher and me to establish a system of public higher education in New Jersey, following the Goheen committee findings, we sought to transform the teachers' colleges into liberal arts resources. But only in audacious imagination were we inspired by the present emergence of Glassboro as Rowan University - an historic invention indeed!

 Your program tonight reflects many extraordinary qualities of your officials and Board concerning the modem role of patents and inventions. I feel qualified to say that each of these activities wonderfully complements the other, having served for 25 years with direct administrative responsibility at Bell Labs for one of the largest professional patent law groups. This worked in corporate combination with our entire R&D population, and the attorneys enhanced the inventions in exposition and vision. The topics you have selected for our part in this meeting exhibit all of this and also show how the resulting patent literature supports the total discovery/invention function. An example, beginning with Thomas Edison, may be useful. Telephones, everywhere, until a decade ago depended on carbon particles in a microphone invented by Edison. In telecommunications, we never knew what the performance limits of such transducers were, but intensively preserved the best carbon particles for telephone manufacture. New solid-state microphones were bulky and expensive. But what was the very best that could be expected when, as Edison reported, the semiconducting properties of the carbon (coal) had to be balanced with the fluidity - (the avoidance of any packing) and the responsiveness to any position "anywhere, anytime" of the telephone set. U. S. Patents 2,697,028 and 2,697,136 (Baker & Grisdale, December 14,1954 to Bell Telephone Laboratories) resolved this issue of ultimate microphone, and hence telephone, efficiency. Perfectly spherical particles of any uniform, or variable, size were produced with electronic properties ranging over 10-3-10-6 mho conductivity. These limiting ‘ideal’ properties of carbon (and other particle) microphones fell far below the goals for new voice systems, so then guided us toward the wonderful polymer electret transducer invented by Jim West at Bell Labs. This enabled the telephone to become a truly electronic instrument, and is now used worldwide.

 But the patent literature disposing of this classic status of carbon particle telephones provided also a knowledge base of forming and using polymer carbon that served crucially in other inventions.

 Namely, the Cold War was declared by the Soviet demonstration of Sputnik and of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) capable of reaching, and actually targeted on, the USA. This capability, which remains today the most ominous danger among all nations, was countered by President Eisenhower's immediate mobilization of our best rocketry. But the required nuclear warheads on our defensive missiles had to be able to endure atmospheric launching and reentry (from outer space). We were resigned to using refractory metal heat shields (such as copper - beryllium), which we also knew (from atmospheric spectral. observations) were the type the Soviets had deployed.

 Eisenhower, and those of us in his new White House Science Office, along with our Department of Defense - U.S. Air Force, needed better missiles for range, guidance, warhead protection and durability. So in response, three of us, Games Slayter (the inventor of fiberglass), Thurnauer (a noted ceramics expert - ceramic nose cones had long been considered as well), and I proposed ablative shields, which actually formed polymer carbon during reentry This worked so well, with the expert engineering of General Electric at Valley Forge, that after the first tests - down range over the Atlantic Ocean - President Eisenhower insisted that the recovered nose cones be brought into the Oval Office - where they were photographed as a memorable keepsake.

 The next stages in this chronicle led, of course, to such heat shields for return of the first (and all succeeding) astronauts. When we asked the first one what he felt as reentry began, he said something like: he thought he was going to be cooked, and then things cooled down! This was exactly the right chemical reaction, since the formation of polymer carbon from the densely cross-linked polymer in the heat shield (U. S. Patent 2,697,028, Baker & Grisdale, December 14, 2954; U. S. Patent 2,758,940, August 14, 1956) is highly endothermic. Dr. Field Winslow, co-inventor this whole patent series, created many laboratory analogues and reaction conditions which indeed accounted for the basic heat shield inventions.

 The invention of microgel as a class of synthetic rubber molecules exhibits yet another impact of basic science on classic and conventional industry processes. High-speed extrusion of composite, insulated telecommunication cable (as well as power line conductors) has long been a dominant element in economics of what is nowadays famous as the ‘wired world.’ Limitations on this manufacture, especially involving improved materials for cable dielectrics and jackets, caused the jackets to distort after manufacture, caused by the non-Newtonian mechanics of macromolecular chain melts. Then, during the historic World War II replacement of an essential material of American industry - rubber for auto tires, cable jackets, and aircraft components - (800,000 tons of GR-S produced; our colleagues, R. R. Williams and C. S. Fuller of Bell Labs, were made responsible for guiding national research/development in the U.S. program) we discovered that the emulsion polymerization process could yield a new, densely cross-linked macromolecule, which we named microgel. Further, under newly controlled conditions, favorable proportions of this very high molecular weight (106 or more) structure dispersed in the major fabrication compound dramatically improved manufacturing extrusion characteristics. This enabled notably enhanced manufacture of all kinds of vehicle tires, as well as cables, and is widely used today. An amusing derivative of the microgel concept is that the expert British processors of Malaysian natural rubber (Hevea) adapted the reaction conditions of GR-S (Government Rubber-Synthetic) to generate regulated portions of microgel molecules within natural rubber latex, which was then (and now) applied for improved products.

So, thank you again for identifying yet other examples of how invention and patenting have augmented the industry and technology of the Twentieth Century! Our own experience particularly in the mid-Century period also found that software invention often joined materials systems in extending functions of the Communications/Information Age.