Department ofChemistry and Biochemistry

stories - through Feb 2016

Alumni Corner: A Note from Alumnus John B. Mooney '50

I was a member of the first post war class and attended SCU on the GI bill. We graduated five members of the Chemistry class. I lived in the Veteran’s Village located about where the Buck Shaw stadium is now. We remained there for the year I worked on an MS at Stanford as I was teaching labs at SCU. My son Mark, retired captain of the San Jose Fire Department, is one of the few who was conceived on campus and lived there for his first year and half. After leaving Stanford with an MS in organic, I worked for 40 years, only once more than 30 miles from the campus. I worked for three years in process development then Dr. Deck asked me to teach as he was in a bind. The Jesuits had made his p-chemistry professor provincial just a month before classes. He suggested that I teach as an instructor while taking additional courses at Stanford. I taught analytical chemistry, freshman chemistry for non-science students, a year of organic and introduced short courses in instrumental analysis, Chemical literature and pre-med physical chemistry.

With the heavy teaching load, the Stanford work was going nowhere so I returned to industry. Bill Sheehan had arrived and Chemistry was beginning to grow. That ended my eight years on campus as student and then as instructor. In the process I switched to analytical chemistry then worked at that at three companies until about 1964 someone asked me to grow a single Chrystal of germanium. I switched to material science under the tutelage of Professor Gerald Pearson, a consultant from Stanford. Gerald had been at ATT’s Bell labs during the development of semiconductor electronics so I learned from the best. In 1969, I became a founder of a Silicon Valley startup that lasted seven years. In 1975, Professor Carver Mead invited me to be a visiting faculty member at CalTech where I worked on semiconductor metallization, and developed contacts for semiconductors that had a barrier voltage greater than gold. We called them super gold, and since I had developed the process for sulfur nitride, I referred to myself as a super alchemist who converted base elements sulfur and nitrogen into super gold. After nine months the money ran out and I moved to SRI International for my last 16 years. There I worked on solar cells, ink jets, photoconductors, office copying, X-ray imaging, and consulted for companies from Finland to Japan and several in the U.S.

In these 40 years, I have published alone and with others some 16 scientific papers in a wide range of publications from Analytical Chemistry to Applied Physic Letters including a chapter in the Annual Reviews of Material Science. There were also some conference papers. I had some 16 US and foreign patents. That is a body of work that satisfies me.

What I did accomplish is mostly due to an excellent education at SCU. At Stanford, I had to work hard, as with SCU required 24 semester units of philosophy and 16 of religion there was little room for electives. My fellow students were better prepared with facts, but I could think and write better. The famous Stanford professors taught me chemistry, but Dr. Deck taught me how to be a chemist. That means a lot. Furthermore, the philosophy in some way taught me how to think, especially Father Fagothy. I find that science asks “what?” and philosophy asks “if?” At SCU I learned to ask “what if?” That may be why I was able to have quite a few breakthroughs.

After retirement in 1992 my wife Sandy and I fixed a sailboat for blue water cruising and sailed away, as far south as Panama and north to Ottawa Canada. On the way we bought a house in Florida from which we travel by boat and by RV as far north as Fairbanks Alaska, as far south as Key West and as far east as Budapest.

In summer 2013, we returned to the Bay Area and bought a sailboat to live on in our marina for three months while we sailed the bay with family and friends, and visited old haunts. We tried to visit SCU, but were frustrated by construction. Then we sold the boat and returned to Florida. At four score and seven, I still sail a small boat and we just bought another RV.

[The diversity of subject matter in my life’s work] shows the type of chemist SCU and Dr. Deck made of me. Define the problem, go to the literature to learn the technology, and then solve the problem.

John B Mooney ‘50