Dr. Robert D. Carnahan

Dr. Robert D. Carnahan
BS Metallurgical Engineering 1953, Honorary PhD Engineering 2000

Why did you choose Michigan Tech?

My college interest focus was on Engineering and I learned about Michigan Tech, then the Michigan College of Mining and Technology, from a former Monroe high school alum attending there while he was home on break in December of 1948.  I had considered U of M based on academics and Ypsi because of a Track fellowship, but I chose Tech for academics and the North country.  I'd crafted a pair of skis as a Boy Scout merit badge project and they didn't see real snow until I hit Ripley over Thanksgiving break in '49.  Counseling in those days was minimal, so my introduction to Metallurgy came a few weeks after enrolling when I switched majors from chemical engineering.

Tell us about a memorable experience you had with a class or about a favorite professor?

I had too many memorable experiences to recount short of a book, but each trip to and from Houghton was an adventure, whether traveling from the far southeast corner of the state or later from the Minnesota/Iowa border, which was actually somewhat closer to campus despite crossing three states.

One of my favorite memories was being a part time lab assistant for the legendary Professor Gil Boyd,

Now, how about a memorable experience outside of class?

My experience in establishing Balfour as source for class rings was quite memorable and taught me quite a lot about the corporate world, as well. I was disappointed in the quality of the rings provided by the former company, and the student council president had committed us to a five-year contract. As a student council member, I invited Terryberry, Balfour, and a third company to compete for the account based on a campus-wide survey and display vote. Balfour won hands down. I was  named, along with the College, in a threatened lawsuit for abandoning the earlier contract. Luckily I had copious files of typewritten correspondence that backed the position and satisfied Tech's administration and Board of Trustees.

What was your first job after graduation and how has your career progressed?

Having spent only one summer in '52 as an intern at GMR in Warren, I had no working experience as an engineer and due to the Korean Conflict I chose Naval OCS as a better alternative than being a draftee.  I began to appreciate my degree training while on active duty. I wasn't consciously aware of the interrelationships in the academics and laboratory experiences until later on when I was working with Honeywell and more so during my doctoral pursuit at Northwestern that began in January of 1960.  I'd attended University of Minnesota part time while working full time and married with two young sons before taking leave to enter NU.

Tell us about a few of your career highlights and notable achievements?

Among my top achievements, I count delivery of the May 2000 Commencement Address at Tech, along with the Honorary Doctorate from Michigan Tech.

Additionally, I was elected a Fellow of ASM International in 1998, and elected to both MTI Academies, School of Business and Economics and Department of Materials Engineering.

I was also appointed by the NATO Science Committee to the Special Programme Panel for Materials Science from 1981-1986, with biannual meetings in Brussels. I served as Chairman in '85 and had a year of offsite sabbatical.

What advice on being successful would you give to Tech students and young alumni?

The best advice I can give to students and young alums is to never discount the value of any of your course pursuits. It continues to amaze me even today the vision that comes from alloying or amalgamating concepts and principals learned. As a student I often questioned the value and purpose of some of the required curriculum.

A second principal is to never burn your bridges, you can never know when you might have to cross them again.

Profile provided by Dr. Robert Carnahan, April 17, 2015


In addition to the accomplishments and philanthropic efforts Dr. Carnahan was willing to acknowledge above, some additional points of interest have been included on his behalf.

Dr. Carnahan entered the field of materials technology at the forefront of a wave of innovation, and much of that innovation can be attributed directly to him. He has brought to the industry a willingness to confront sensible risk in order to pursue new technologies. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he holds fourteen industrial patents, and is the author of more than sixty publications.

In support of Michigan Tech's Enterprise Program, Dr. Carnahan sponsors research projects with the Consumer Products Manufacturing enterprise and has established the Carnahan Enterprise Scholarship, which awards four merit-based scholarships for undergraduates in Business and Economics and Scientific and Technical Communication.

Dr. Carnahan has received distinguished alumni awards from both Michigan Tech and Northwestern and is a life trustee of the Michigan Tech Fund, a member of the McNair Society, the Presidents Club, and the Second Century Society. In 1983 he received the Michigan Tech Board of Trustees Silver Medal.

Excerpted in part from Michigan Tech News articles from 1999 and May 9, 2000.