Michigan Molecular Institute

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Michigan Molecular Institute (MMI) ceased operations in 2015 after nearly 45 years of outstanding service in pursuit of applied research in polymer science and technology.


MMI officially opened its doors under the name Midland Macromolecular Institute in the fall of 1972, although the facility had been in operation for the previous year. The building had broken ground in the spring of 1970, and it, like many of Midland's buildings from that era, was designed by local architect Alden B. Dow. The institute hosted a three-day dedication beginning September 28, 1972 with opening ceremonies that featured more than 400 scientists from throughout the world, chamber music from the Cleveland Quartet, several presentations and public tours.[1] The featured speakers for the ceremonies were Dr. Herman Francis Mark, considered by many to be the father of macromolecular sciences, and Dr. Paul J. Flory, who two years later would be awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Two other speakers were prof. dr. Donald Lyman and prof. dr. Edgar Andrews. Other luminaries on hand included Dr. Melvin Calvin, the 1961 winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry; Dr. Charles Overberger, then the vice-president for research at the University of Michigan; and Herbert D. "Ted" Doan, president of the Michigan Foundation for Advanced Research, which was MMI's primary financial backer in its early days.

MMI's first director was Dr. H.G. Elias, who came to Midland from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Beyond funding from MFAR, early financial supporters of MMI were the Herbert H. & Grace A. Dow Foundation, The Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation and the Charles J. Strosacker Foundation. In the institute's early days, Elias said MMI would be run much like a university department, although its founders expected MMI would advance macromolecular science knowledge in a way that universities could not.[2] One similarity: MMI opened its doors as a not-for-profit organization, which it remains today.

MMI's first 15 years of research of advanced composite materials and polymer technology contributed to Michigan's ability to entice plastics- and composite-related industries to build in the state, and its affiliation with Central Michigan University and Michigan Technological University allowed it to offer master's and doctorate degrees in related research fields.[3] In the early 1990s, MMI began to shift its focus toward creating technology that could be licensed for commercialization.

Over the years, six men have led the institute as President and/or CEO, including Elias (1972–83); Dr. Robert E. Hefner (1985-85 and 1990–92); Dr. John Hoffman (1985–1990); Dr. James D. Allen (1992–1994); Dr. Robert M. Nowak (1994–2009); and Dr. James H. Plonka (2009–2015).

The Turner J. Alfrey Visiting Professorship[edit]

Year Turner Alfrey Visiting Professor
1974 George Smets, University of Louvain, Belgium
1975 Motowo Takayanagi, Kyūshū University, Japan
1976 Helmut Ringsdorf, University of Mainz, Germany
1977 Anthony Ledwith, University of Liverpool, England
1978 Ora Kedem, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel
1979 Bengt Ranby, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
1980 Gerard Riess, Upper Alsace University, France
1981 Kenneth O'Driscoll, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
1982 Piero Pino, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland
1983 Robert N. Haward, University of Birmingham, England
1984 Joachim Klein, Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany
1985 Norio Ise, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan
1986 Robert Gilbert, University of Sydney, Australia
1987 James E. McGrath, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
1988 Robert W. Lenz, University of Massachusetts Amherst
1989 Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, Collège de France, Paris, France
1990 Gerhard Wegner, Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, Germany
1991 Donald R. Paul, University of Texas, Austin
1992 James Economy, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
1993 Garth L. Wilkes, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
1994 David A. Tirrell, University of Massachusetts Amherst
1995 Christopher W. Macosko, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
1996 Kenneth B. Wagener, University of Florida, Gainesville
1997 Takeji Hashimoto, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan
1998 Bruce M. Novak, University of Massachusetts Amherst
2000 Edwin L. Thomas, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
2001 James E. Mark, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati
2002 Roderic P. Quirk, The University of Akron, Akron
2003 Matthew Tirrell, University of California, Santa Barbara
2004 Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh
2005 Markus Antonietti, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Germany
2006 Robert K. Prud’homme, Princeton University
2007 Stephen Z.D. Cheng, The University of Akron, Akron
2008 Thomas P. Russell, University of Massachusetts Amherst
2009 Joseph DeSimone, UNC (Chapel Hill) and NCSU (Raleigh)
2010 Richard A. Gross, New York University, Brooklyn
2011 Timothy P. Lodge, University of Minnesota
2012 Kathryn Uhrich, Rutgers University

MMI's emphasis from the beginning on the education portion of its mission led to a steady stream of outside experts through the institute, including the visiting professor program, established in 1973 and renamed in 1981 as a living memorial to the late Dr. Turner Alfrey, Jr. Each year, a leading scientist is invited to teach a short course, visit sponsoring organizations and deliver additional research seminars, benefitting many people by providing a point of connection between local scientists and engineers with the world leaders of the polymer science field.[4]

TAVP speakers from around the world have been invited to present the latest, most up-to-date information in their particular polymer expertise areas. Typically, these courses were delivered in an intensive, one-week, daily lecture format. Visiting professors also spent additional time at MMI, participating in one-on-one and research group discussions at the Institute, and in collaborations and discussions with other nearby industrial and academic researchers. They also prepared and delivered a set of on-site seminars for many of the sponsoring organizations that parallel and supplement the formal course lectures. Financial co-sponsors of the Turner Alfrey Visiting Professor program included The Dow Chemical Company, Dow Corning Corporation, Michigan State University, Central Michigan University, Saginaw Valley State University, the Mid-Michigan Section of the Society of Plastics Engineers, and the Midland Section of the American Chemical Society.

The list of Turner Alfrey Visiting Professors includes several Nobel Prize winners.


  1. ^ "Scientific Institute Praised", The Saginaw News, 1972-09-29. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  2. ^ "Scientific Institute Praised", The Saginaw News, 1972-09-29. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  3. ^ "Our View", The Midland Daily News, 1990-06-03. Retrieved 2009-09-22.
  4. ^ "Carnegie Mellon professor to lecture at MMI in May", The Midland Daily News, 2004-04-18. Retrieved 2010-09-22.

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