- BS Metallurgical Engineering 1990
While he has clearly made his name in the metallurgical industry, Branagan grew up around heavy construction as his father ran a family business performing parking lot maintenance. "In a family business, you start out pretty young on the parking lot. I established a good work ethic at a young age," said Branagan. He was always interested in the outdoors and was skilled at math and science, so when it came time to choose a college, Michigan Tech was the clear-cut choice.
While he started out in mechanical engineering, he really found his niche in metallurgical engineering. While he was involved in broomball and a few outdoor activities, Branagan focused primarily on his schoolwork and graduated in four years.
Three particular events during his senior year helped him pave his way after graduation. One professor recommended that he try working overseas, so he spent the summer after his graduation working in Finland, a truly unique experience for Branagan. He was also advised to attend graduate school even though he did not consider himself Ph.D. quality. Finally, he overheard a conversation in which an instructor said that surprisingly many people in his major went on to start their own business.
Building on the advice he received, Branagan attended graduate school at Iowa State University, ultimately earning his Ph.D. in metallurgy. "I remember the professors saying that I was especially well suited for graduate school. That says a lot about Michigan Tech," said Branagan. He said that some Tech classes were more difficult than those in grad school.
In 1995, Branagan secured a job at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). During his 12 years as a research scientist in the lab, he has earned many accomplishments, including the INL Lifetime Achievement Award for Inventorship.
Continuing to follow his advice from back at Michigan Tech, Branagan ultimately founded his own business in 2002, Nanosteel. "My dad started his own business. My wife's dad started his own business. So we had the entrepreneurial spirit." The business took off as a result of Branagan's invention called Super Hard Steel. The business develops and markets a range of patented Super Hard Steel(r) nanostructured materials that can be applied with a variety of widely available industrial processes, including thermal spraying, welding and laser cladding.
While Super Hard Steel came as a result of hard work, Branagan credits Michigan Tech for giving him the educational background to make such an invention. "You're really taught to think, to solve problems on your own at Michigan Tech. That should really be the focus of your education," said Branagan. He also credits his life experiences and hands-on work.
While Branagan is clearly accomplished, he remains very humble about the accolades he has received. "I feel extremely honored. I would just like to thank the great mentors I had at Michigan Tech. I'm also a Christian so I'd like to thank the Lord Jesus. It's easy to get arrogant and think that it's me, but I don't think it is...I just work as hard as I can every day and try to honor the Lord in all the work that I do."
Branagan has some advice for current students. "I was invited to give the Commencement address at Michigan Tech in 2004, and that was certainly one of the highlights of my career. I'm going to give the same advice I did there. As a Michigan Tech student you will certainly be well prepared. You'll have a great background no matter what. It then comes down to choices, which ultimately come down to personal ethics. It is important to do your best whether somebody is watching or not. I also like to stress staying in balance," said Branagan.
He said it is easy to get sucked into sacrificing for your job. It is hard but important to find a balance between work, family, physical fitness, etc. "Lastly, you are not working for mankind, you are working for God. Honor Him in all that you do," said Branagan.
by Stephen Anderson, reprinted from the Michigan Tech Lode (2-13-08)