Frank Donahue | Faculty
A few years after Frank Donahue started his career at Michigan, he posed for a group photo in front of East Engineering with his ChE and MSE colleagues. Nearly forty years later, when he was an expert witness at a civil trial, he was surprised when the defense attorney produced that same photo and asked Frank to identify himself and name the others in the photo. Apparently, he had some doubts that Frank was who he said he was, a long-time member of the faculty at Michigan. Frank had no trouble identifying the professors and attributes the doubts to his youthful appearance—clearly he didn’t look old enough to be in a 1968 faculty photo!
Frank was born in Philadelphia, PA in 1934. After he received a degree in chemistry from LaSalle College, he went to work at a local commercial baking company. There, he made some findings that he later found out demonstrated various principles of chemical engineering. One of his “experiments” was putting thermocouples in the cupcakes he was baking to measure the internal temperature during heating and cooling. At other times, he measured viscosity changes during the heating of non-Newtonian fluids.
He had the opportunity to work with chemical engineers in his next job at a water treatment consulting company. The company wanted to begin an electrochemical program and hired Frank, even though he didn’t have any experience or training. The company also hired a consultant from the University of Pennsylvania. This arrangement ended when the consultant moved on to Stanford Research Institute and offered Frank a job to work in a lab doing early research on fuel cells. With funding from petroleum companies, their task was to find out if hydrocarbon fuel cells were feasible. By 1963, the group determined that they were not.
That year, Frank headed down to Los Angeles to begin a doctoral program in a chemical, nuclear, thermal program at UCLA. While there he had a meeting with Dean Llewellyn Boelter, an expert in fluid mechanics and heat transfer, who strongly encouraged Frank to pursue a career in academia, rather than at an industrial research laboratory.
He joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1965 and began his research in corrosion, batteries, and plating. He taught most of the ChE undergraduate courses and graduate courses on corrosion and electrochemical engineering. He also taught an electrochemical engineering short course through the Engineering Summer Conferences program for many years.
Frank says he enjoyed working with his colleagues and still sees a few of them at a weekly Friday lunch at Knight’s Steakhouse. Most of the attendees are professors emeriti and the group presently includes Frank, Rane Curl, Jim Wilkes, and Scott Fogler who, though far from retirement, has recently joined the group. They were delighted to have Pete Severn, the former department glass blower, and John Wurster, the former department machinist, join the group for lunch in June. Dale Briggs, Brymer Williams, Ed Young, and Bob Kadlec were also members of the group for many years.
Frank has discovered that retirement is an opportunity to participate in many activities he didn’t get around to when he was working. One of his favorite pursuits is teaching a class at his church where he looks at literature and films and how they relate to moral positions and social teachings of the Catholic Church. He makes DVDs for his students that include a Powerpoint presentation with photos and historical background about the subjects to aid in their discussions.
He has also been volunteering his time to help seniors prepare their tax returns and with the local Society of St. Vincent DePaul, a group that assists people in need. Frank staffs a desk and hands out items such as clothing vouchers, bus passes, and Kroger cards to all who stop by the office.
He and his wife, Mary, have enjoyed traveling to Ireland to visit the land of their ancestors. Mary’s family came to the United States in the early 20th century, so they’ve been able to meet many of her relatives while touring the country. They both love to listen to Irish music groups such as the Clancy Brothers and the Chieftains, but they also have been able to attend concerts by other groups that perform Irish music at The Ark and Conor O’Neil’s.
Frank has also spent time studying geology and anthropology in the Southwest U.S. for years. He enjoys the beautiful scenery typical in that region.
In the nearly twenty years since Frank retired from active teaching in the Department of Chemical Engineering and received emeritus status, he has continued his professional activities and added a few avocations.
He has continued to consult and teach short courses - but less frequently than in the past - in areas defined by electrochemical engineering and science and battery / fuel cell technology. Prior to leaving the University, he had formed Minotaur Technologies, which provided the basis for his extramural teaching and consulting activities. Minotaur has provided in-house courses for some of the best-known battery manufacturers in the country.
In addition, he has been engaged by attorneys in the areas of corrosion and energy technology as an expert witness in civil law suits – as he describes his work: “I’m always on the side of the angels and folks who have been seriously hurt.”
The busy Departmental and University schedules had more-or-less eliminated serious reading, studying, and traveling of a non-professional nature for him. Retirement was the remedy for that situation. Recently, he has traveled extensively in the American southwest becoming a student of culture, scenery, and geology along the way. He has been invited to give talks to local school children on “The Four Corners Anasazi” and is currently working on DVDs and Windows Media Player presentations about, among other things, Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop and Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
He has also traveled to Ireland to visit some of the relatives of Mary (his wife) and has put together some travel DVDs of the Emerald Isle. Flat Charlie went with Frank and his wife, Mary, on those trips.
In the last few years, he has developed an interest in postage stamps (particularly, Vatican City) and became co-President (with Mary) of the Ann Arbor Stamp Club in 2012.