Alumni Friends Reconnect with Dr. Donald Potter

potter1How influential is any one faculty member in helping to shape the next generation of engineering leaders? In the case of Dr. Donald Potter, professor emeritus of Metallurgy and Materials Science, the answer was resoundingly clear when a tightly knit group of former graduate students returned to Storrs over the summer for a reunion with their beloved graduate school advisor and mentor.

The reunion was organized by triple-alumna Dr. Janet Callahan (B.S. Chemical Engineering ’84; M.S. Metallurgy ’86; Ph.D. Materials Science ‘90), now a professor and Associate Dean of Engineering at Boise State University. “We had a surprise retirement party about 10 years ago for Dr. Potter,” she relates, “But he just kept on teaching. When we heard he was really going to stop teaching, we decided it was time for another reunion.”  

Dr. Callahan says the group spent an evening catching up with one another and sharing stories, the likes of: “Do you remember rolling the end station down the hall to the ion implanter in Hayden’s lab?” They also remembered staying up all night in the lab on occasion to take advantage of a good source beam. Dr. Callahan explains that retired lab manager Jim Koch would somehow get a difficult source, such as yttrium, up and running with a decent current and when that happened, “You just stayed in the lab as long as the source held out.”

Like many of Dr. Potter’s graduate school advisees, Dr. Callahan has built an enviable career of accomplishment, for which she was inducted into UConn’s Academy of Distinguished Engineers in 2004.

Joining the reunion were Steve Lamond (M.S. Metallurgy ’83), President of International Turbines Systems, Inc. of South Windsor, CT; Dr. Edward  Cooney, III (B.S. Chemical Engineering/Materials Engineering ’86; Ph.D. Materials Science, ‘92), who is a Senior  Engineer with IBM Microelectronics in Essex Junction, VT; Dr. Mary B.  Vollaro (Ph.D. Materials Science ‘96), associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at Western New England University; and Dr. James Steele (Ph.D. Materials Science ‘94), who is an R&D Scientist with Mott Corporation of Farmington, CT. Larry McCurdy, retired laboratory manager who maintained the electron microscopes, also attended. Two other alumni – Sara Fishman (Ph.D. Metallurgy ‘86) and Kim Ruffing (Ph.D. Materials Science ‘88) – were unable to attend but sent their best wishes to Don and Penny Potter.

A topic of discussion among the reunited friends was the difficulty “back then” of getting thin area on samples. Dr. Callahan explains that this was an important aim because ion implantation affects only the near surface regions of a material, thus requiring transmission electron microscopy – a technique in which high energy electrons are transmitted through the material. How thin did samples need to be? “Well, less than about 200 nm or so, depending on the material. We were all studying nanomaterials long before the topic became popular to study,” notes Dr. Vollaro. They agreed that without the assistance of Larry McCurdy, who maintained the transmission electron microscopy facility and trained graduate students in the use of the instruments, successful results would not have been possible.

“Don Potter was my teacher and research advisor, and now he is my friend and mentor. I would never have considered getting my Ph.D. had he not noticed me as an undergraduate in chemical engineering and invited me to join his research group,” Dr. Callahan remarks. Long before the current focus on enhancing engineering diversity, Dr. Callahan notes proudly that Dr. Potter recruited and graduated an equal number of female and male Ph.D.s in metallurgy or materials science – “a remarkable accomplishment.”

Read more about Dr. Potter here.

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