Briggs Retires from Chemistry Department

Posted on 10/17/2012 10:26:10 AM

Michael Briggs, associate professor of Chemistry, retired from IUP at the end of August 2012.

The Chemistry Department is sad to lose a talented instructor and valued colleague, but we wish him all the best for his retirement and look forward to hearing of his exploits on the Appalachian Trail next year!

About Mike Briggs

Born in Urbana, Illinois, in 1946 to a Navy vet and a stay-at-home mom, Mike Briggs began a zig-zag path to the present. At two years of age, his mother was sure of his success in life and bought him a set of World Book encyclopedias. This early gift was the catalyst of a fondness for reading and science.

In the middle decade of the last century, this student began his education in public education with little note or exception, and finished high school in the middle of the next decade. The yearbook in 1964 made little comment other than that he attended Barberton High School (Ohio).

The decade of the sixties was all about the war in Vietnam, and, in 1966, the student at the University of Akron became a soldier by volunteering for service. He attended Officer Candidate School and was commissioned an officer in the United States Army in 1967. Almost immediately, he found himself in Vietnam commanding a platoon of 32 other soldiers a month before his 21st birthday. Six months to the day after he entered Vietnam, he stepped on a booby-trapped land mine and spent the next nine months in the hospital.

After a military retirement and to recuperate, this former soldier went to California with his wife and a two-year-old daughter to seek his fortune. He worked for Bechtel Corporation on the Black Mesa in Arizona at a plant which ground coal into a fine slurry, which was then sent to a power plant 250 miles away in the southern tip of Nevada. There, the coal slurry was dewatered and burned to produce electricity for Los Angeles. After a year and a half taking percent coal samples and reporting them to the Bechtel office in San Francisco, the former soldier decided to go back to the University of Akron and finish his B.S. degree. He graduated in 1973 with a degree in Chemistry; the same year a son was born.

The new chemist went to work for General Tire as a raw material specialist in the Tire Technology Department. For 10 years, he evaluated raw materials for use in automobile and truck tires, such as carbon black for strength, mileage, and reduced rolling resistance; synthetic rubbers for durability and long tire life; accelerators and curing agents for proper chemistry in development of a super-polymer from smaller chained polymers. The work was rewarding, but, when an opportunity appeared to move into the International Division of the company, this chemist jumped at it and went to Mexico City, Mexico, as a tire plant chemist. That job lasted four years, and then he went to Casablanca, Morocco, as the tire plant technical manager. When the USA bombed Libya in 1986, that job ended suddenly, and the chemist came back to the USA to work in the General Tire Training Department in Akron, Ohio.

Looking for adventure, Briggs left General Tire and went to work for Specialty Tires of America in Indiana, Pennsylvania, as the technical manager for race tires. This was an exciting position because it required attendance at dirt track races several Saturdays each month!

But even that kind of excitement wanes sooner or later, and Briggs returned to the university life at IUP in search of a master’s degree in chemistry and a teaching certificate. In 1994, with both certificates in hand, a five-year period of teaching at the temporary faculty level began. This was followed in 1999 with the transition to Purdue University to obtain a doctorate in chemistry. The degree was secured in 2004, and an opening in the Chemistry Department at IUP allowed the chemist to return to IUP as a tenure-track faculty member. In 2007, tenure was awarded and, in 2009, promotion to associate professor was granted. Prior to retirement in 2012, Briggs collaborated with George Long to obtain a national Science Foundation grant and write two published scientific papers on the research.

Briggs is now training for a through hike on the Appalachian Trail to begin in January 2013.