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Introduction by John M. Swartz
There is no way I (John M. Swartz) can write about Marlin without
making it very personal, because our relationship and careers
became greatly intertwined over time.
I arrived at the Ohio State Electrical Engineering Department on a fall Saturday in 1958, a week before the start of fall quarter, for a scheduled meeting with Professor K. Y. Tang. We were to work out a program to convert a ceramic engineering graduate from the Alfred University State College of Ceramics into an electrical engineer. Professor K. Y. Tang drew the assignment of helping me work out a schedule for a master's degree with an obvious lack of undergraduate courses in EE. It took nearly two hours for him to come up with a schedule for the year. I’m pretty sure that he didn’t think I had much of a chance of making it through the next two years and if indeed he thought that, he was nearly right.
At the end of that session, Professor Tang introduced me to a young associate professor and asked him to show me around the department. Little did Professor Thurston or I realize that that day was the start of a relationship that would last for 49 years.
Marlin grew up on a farm in Colorado and received his BA in Physics from the University of Colorado in 1940. He married Helen right after she graduated from high school, while he was still an undergraduate at the university. Shortly after graduation, he tried to join the Army but could not pass the physical. Within a few months that was not a problem. From 1942 to 1946 he was on active duty in the Army Signal Corps and Air Corps. He was in the U.S.A.F. Ready Reserves from 1947 until 1978 and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Marlin went back to the University of Colorado after World War II and received a MS in Physics in 1946. Helen and he then moved to Dayton where for two years he was an assistant professor, in electrical engineering and physics and then an associate professor of electrical engineering until 1951. During this time he was the acting department head at the U.S.A.F. Institute of Technology.
In one of our many conversations, he told me how he came to the OSU Electrical Engineering Department. Professor Boone was traveling to Dayton and teaching a course and therefore knew Marlin. Marlin had shared with him that he planned to work on a PhD in Physics at OSU. One day, Professor Boone invited Marlin to visit him at his EE office in Caldwell Laboratory. Marlin told me, “I walked into his office and Professor Boone said, 'Yes, I think we can give you a job in the Device Lab while you work on your PhD in electrical engineering.'” He went back to Dayton and told Helen he had just accepted a job that he had not applied for and that now he was going to get a PhD in Electrical Engineering rather than Physics. He graduated in 1955 and was immediately hired by the department as an associate professor, probably because of his prior experience at AFIT.
During 1958-59, I continued to progress within the master’s program. Taking both undergraduate and graduate courses, I slowly built up my background (and grades) to that of a normal graduate student working towards a master's degree. Because of my ceramic engineering background, I was able to obtain a part time job at Battelle Memorial Institute in the ceramics department in early 1959.
By the time I was ready for a master’s thesis it was clear that I would also need a new advisor. Because of my ceramic engineering background, my interests gravitated towards semiconductor physics. Marlin was a consultant to Battelle – in the Solid State Devices Department, then managed by Charlie Peet. Consequently, in the spring of 1959, I was transferred from Professor Tang to Professor Thurston. Charlie Peet, probably at Professor Thurston’s suggestion, arranged for me to be transferred to his division. One of my first projects was to attempt to characterize how a wide-based silicon diode responded to fast neutrons experimentally. I was able to use a portion of this work for my master’s thesis, and graduate in the fall quarter of 1960.
One day that summer of 1959, both Marlin’s and my life took on an added dimension. I was invited to lunch by my department head, Charlie Peet, and Professor Thurston. This luncheon discussion resulted in the formation of a startup company called Continental Electronics, which was later renamed Phylatron by Marlin due to a naming conflict. The company's objective was to manufacture and sell fast neutron dosimeters to the military. It was the first of several companies that Marlin helped form over his lifetime. It was also my introduction to the world of small business as well.
Marlin became the second president of Continental Electronics in 1961 (as a consultant) until he resigned in 1965 upon becoming Department Chairman. Myself, and two or three other students of his worked there for a period of time between 1960 and 1965. The company (renamed Phylatron) survived in those years on government contracts. One of the main supporting agencies was Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland.
After graduating in December 1960 and serving in the Army for 18 months, I became a part time engineer in 1962 at Phylatron as well as an instructor within the Department of Electrical Engineering. Phylatron performed contract research during that period and we somehow managed to keep the company alive. One of the employees at Phylatron was a technician named Cordell Couch and he later came to work for Lake Shore Cryotronics. Although now retired, Cordell still works part time at Lake Shore Cryotronics. Continental Electronics/Phylatron was the starting point for Marlin’s and my interest in small businesses.
Marlin was passionate about his interest in science. I can remember one day riding back from Phylatron to the University with him and he was in such a deep discussion about our research that he sailed right through a stop sign without realizing it. Years later I would kid him about that, but not then. Marlin had the ability to focus and he loved science.
The formation of a company to sell the neutron dosimeter was nearly 20 years ahead of the market. It was not until the early 1980s that Lake Shore was able to team up with Harshaw Chemical Company and sales of dosimeters were made to both the US Military and NATO forces worldwide. That market abruptly disappeared with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. The success of Lake Shore with this product can be greatly attributed to Dr. Phil Swinehart, a Lake Shore employee and 1974 PhD graduate of the department.
We both severed ties with Phylatron at about the same time. Marlin took over as Department Chairman. Upon graduation in 1965 with a PhD, I was hired by the department as an assistant professor. Marlin’s promotion left an opening for me to teach the semiconductor physics courses that he had been teaching and to advise PhD students as well.
I did not realize until many years later the indirect role Marlin played in the startup of Lake Shore Cryotronics, Inc. in 1968. When Marlin relinquished his role in Phylatron, my older brother David Swartz took over as President. Soon after that, it became apparent that a market for the neutron dosimeter was years off, if it existed at all. So David redirected the company in other areas. In 1963, a paper was published from Bell Labs regarding a Gallium Arsenide diode which could be used for low temperature measurement down to approximately 4 Kelvin. NASA wanted some of these devices and Professor Thurston suggested that they have Phylatron, now called Precision Systems, make these under contract. This work was done by two of Marlin’s graduate students, Bill Closser and William Speers, both part-time workers for Precision Systems. Their efforts resulted in a final report and deliverable diode temperature sensors in early 1966. Shortly after that, the company was taken over by OSU Professor/entrepreneur Edward Funk. David Swartz left the company and took a job in Buffalo. A year later (1967), Argonne National Laboratory wanted 35 of these new cryogenic temperature sensors. A representative organization in Chicago who had dealt with Precision Systems approached David and asked him if he could supply them. He called me, and I made them with some very good advice from Paul Fournier, another of Marlin’s graduate students – and that was the start of Lake Shore Cryotronics.
Marlin retired as Department Chairman in 1977, and I left the Department on a year sabbatical, which has now turned into a 30 year sabbatical. In both cases, we started new careers. Marlin formed a consulting firm with Floyd Bell and later Karl Olsen then founding Neoprobe Corporation with Dr. Martin. I focused on growing Lake Shore Cryotronics, Inc. into a viable business. Our volleyball days were behind us, but now I saw Marlin almost weekly at our Wednesday evening doubles tennis matches. In the early '90s, Marlin accepted my invitation to become a member of the Board of Directors for Lake Shore and he served on our board until mid-2006. Once again our relationship ended up in the creation of yet another small company, BioCrystal.
As a result of his many efforts, Marlin received several awards. On April 13, 1989, he along with Edward W. Martin, Jr. were named Inventor of the Year finalists, Intellectual Property Owners Foundation, Washington; on April 17, 1991, Marlin was named as Technical Person of the Year, Columbus Technical Council; on April 26, 1991, he was awarded the Benjamin G. Lamme Gold Medal for Meritorious Achievement in Engineering; on February 28,1991, he and Dr. Edward W. Martin Jr. were awarded the Central Ohio Technical Achievement Award; and lastly in January, 1992, he and Dr. Edward W. Martin were given the Discovery Trilon Award, Innovation Alliance.
In 1988, Lake Shore funded Nanocrystals Technology, a small startup in Briarcliff Manor, NY. As a result of our discussions after tennis matches and his interaction with Dr. Martin at OSU, Marlin suggested the use of these crystals as possible tools for staining cells. Marlin, Ted and I were unable to interest the President of Nanocrystals Technology, Inc., Ramesh Bhargava, in this application of his crystals. Two or three years later, Larry Rubin, another Lake Shore Board member made me aware of some semiconductor nanocrystals developed at MIT which might be used for this application. The result was the formation of BioCrystal, LTD. in late 1996 with Dr. Martin, Emilio Barbera, Marlin Thurston and Lake Shore. By my count, this was Marlin’s 5th small business startup (Phylatron, Thurston-Bell Associates, Inc., Thurston, Bell & Olson, Neoprobe, and BioCrystal). It was also my 5th (Phylatron, Lake Shore Cryotronics, Inc., Nanocrystals Technology, NorthStar Technology, and BioCrystal), the first one (Phylatron) and last one (BioCrystal) with Marlin.
BioCrystal worked on the semiconductor nanocrystals which we soon named Bio-Pixels. We diverted a large portion of our effort trying to determine a scientific reason for the surgery results of Neoprobe. In addition, BioCrystal developed a product line called OptiCell. Marlin was very instrumental in the development of both product lines. Both the Bio-Pixel and the OptiCell product lines were sold between the years of 2002 – 2004.
One of the byproducts of the formation of BioCrystal was that I and many of our employees had an opportunity to see Marlin almost daily since BioCrystal operated within the Lake Shore building. The result was that I spent many hours over these later years talking with him about a variety of subjects. He shared with me details about his childhood, his parents and sister, how he ended up at Ohio State, the family violin, and his interest in English literature including Shakespeare. He also told me about his genealogy which Helen had mainly researched. And I told him about my genealogical research as well. I remember one funny story that I shared with Marlin about my genealogy research. I walked into his office one day and mentioned that a number of these ancestors seemed to have married either after their first child was born or that they had their first child within three or four months of marriage. Marlin commented, “John, you have to understand – in those days it was extremely important that the woman be fertile.”
Several people stopped in to see me shortly after Marlin’s death. Perhaps one of them best sums up what type of person he was. I was at Lake Shore on a Saturday when two of the janitors stopped in to say hello. Neither of them knew that Marlin had passed away, and when I told them, the younger janitor who had met Marlin only once – when he helped him pack up his books said, “I just met him that one time and he was one of the nicest men I’ve ever met.” What nicer comment can you say about any individual! This sentiment has been repeated to me by everyone in this building who had the pleasure of knowing Marlin. During these 49 years, our relationship changed from him being Professor Thurston to Marlin – a friend and mentor who had more influence on my adult career than any other person I know.
John M. Swartz, 2009