Chemical Engineering alumnus E. Gerald Meyer proves that age is just a number. Meyer, who turned 100 last November, is impressively busy and not slowing down. Meyer’s list of hobbies includes traveling, art collecting, competitive running, and up until about ten years ago—motorcycling. He has competed in the National Senior Games several times and notably took the gold in four running events at the 2019 National Senior Games.
Semi-retired, he is emeritus professor of chemistry and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Wyoming. Still involved in his field, he is currently collaborating on chemical engineering research. In this coal refining project, the purpose is to “crack” the ring structure of hydrocarbons in coal to produce a slate of useful products used in the chemical industry such as ammonia and sulfur, with no CO2 emission. Meyer is an active member of the American Chemical Society (ACS) where he served on the ACS National Council for 27 years. He is an ACS and American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, an American Institute of Chemical Engineers Senior Engineer, and a 2018 recipient of the American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal.
Meyer has many stories to tell about his life, his career, and his time at what was then called Carnegie Institute of Technology, or Carnegie Tech: “a few thousand,” he says with a laugh. He shares each of his memories with a smile in his voice.
Meyer was encouraged to pursue a college education by his mother—a 1915 Wellesley College graduate. After applying to several schools, he chose the College of Engineering for its reputation. Also, Pittsburgh seemed far away from his New Mexico home and he was excited to explore a new part of the country.
“I think the thing that struck me about Carnegie Tech was the atmosphere. The commitment of the people, the students, and the faculty,” says Meyer, “people who really understood the importance of an education, and the opportunities that come from education, and the ability of Carnegie [Tech] to furnish students with the right tools needed for success.”
While earning his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering (’40), Meyer worked part-time at the United States Bureau of Mines research station. After graduating, he worked for a year at the Harbison Walker Refractories Company while taking a night class at Carnegie Tech. The course—chemical thermodynamics with Professor of Chemistry Harry Seltz—was a turning point for Meyer.
“On reflection, it is interesting that one course could have such an effect, but this course in chemical thermodynamics was so remarkably good that I took it, and I ended up doing my master’s research with Seltz,” says Meyer.
As Meyer worked toward his master’s degree in chemistry, the grim realities of World War II intensified each day. After graduating in 1942, Meyer was drafted in the Navy where he served until the end of the war in 1945. With his engineering and science background, Meyer was assigned to the Naval Research Laboratory to work on insulation for shipboard cabling.
After the war, Meyer found himself back in New Mexico and again searching for the next step in his career. He soon became involved in research at the University of New Mexico with Professor Jack Workman developing the timed fuses for explosives such as torpedoes. But after the research moved elsewhere, Meyer went back to school and earned a Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico in 1950 in physical chemistry. He did his dissertation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and remained a consultant for many years.
His graduation from the University of New Mexico was the beginning of his long career in academia. Meyer served on faculty and in leadership positions at New Mexico Highlands University for ten years and the University of Wyoming for over 50 years. During his career, Meyer mentored many students. So, when asked for his advice to students starting their career, he looks at his own path to offer guidance.
“You need to kind of look in the mirror and say, ‘What am I interested in?’ And keep in mind that what I might be interested in today could change, so I’ve got to keep flexible. And you need to say to yourself, ‘Whatever I do, I’m going to give it my best shot, I really am. I’m going to remain true to myself,” says Meyer.
Be honest with yourself and with the people you work with. And keep your eyes open for what opportunities can come up.E. Gerald Meyer (’40 ’42)
Committed to supporting students, Meyer has given back to Carnegie Mellon University generously. He created the Meyer Scholarship in the College of Engineering in 2004. This scholarship will support undergraduate engineering students in need, specifically students from rural western areas in the United States. With this fund, Meyer hopes to help students from areas such as his home state of New Mexico.
“Be honest with yourself and with the people you work with. And keep your eyes open for what opportunities can come up.”