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August 2, 2021
Liquid Crystal Oral History Project
Transcript produced by Sharp Copy Transcription
MATTHEW CRAWFORD: My name is Matthew Crawford. I'm an Associate Professor and Historian of Science in the Department of History at Kent State University. I'm interviewing Elaine Landry, Business Manager of the Liquid Crystal Institute at Kent State University from 1983 to her retirement in 2002. Today is August 2nd, 2021. We're conducting this interview at Ms. Landry's home in Lexington, Kentucky. Elaine, thank you for agreeing to do this interview.
CRAWFORD: My apologies. Out of curiosity, what position did your husband have at the University?
LANDRY: He taught in the English Department.
LANDRY: He would've been hired maybe '87. Because I think Peter Palffy was hired in—
CRAWFORD: I think around that time, as well, right?
LANDRY: Peter Palffy I think was hired in ’96? I think Jack in maybe ’97? (2) But I'm a little shaky on those dates. Those dates I remember, because the LCI helped organize the Liquid Crystal Conference that was held in Berkeley, California. That must've been '86, so Jack Kelly would've been hired in '87, then the ALCOM interview was in '88.
CRAWFORD: So the late 1980s.
CRAWFORD: Part of this push by Dr. Doane to build up the Institute. Just thinking a little bit more about recruiting, was there an intention to target people working in industry? Or was it really just, as you said, looking for people with common interests, regardless of whether they were in academia or industry?
LANDRY: Common interests and talent. Yes.
CRAWFORD: Did many people apply for positions? Were you or Dr. Doane sort of reaching out to the networks of liquid crystal scholars and looking for people that way?
LANDRY: Not really. The recruiting was based on advertising. I think in the case of Dr. Lavrentovich, we actually asked him to apply for the position because he was an accomplished scientist. He had been working in France, and I think he was living in France at the time he was in Florida for that meeting. I don't really know who heard about him first.
CRAWFORD: But some individuals were known by reputation, other individuals through the formal application process, through advertising and so forth.
CRAWFORD: I want to talk a little bit more about—building on this recruiting and what you were saying about the community of scientists, what was it like day-to-day at the Liquid Crystal Institute?
LANDRY: It was very busy. We had to hire more people just to keep up with all the accounting we had to do. Because of course they were all busy in the labs. It took a lot of purchase orders, for instance. By that time, people were doing their own articles for publication because everybody was computer-literate. The days of having to type articles for submission or dissertations were long passed. We split up a lot of the accounting. We had to hire another account clerk, another secretary. John West had his own secretary by that time. He and another professor from Physics, Michael Lee, were associate directors by then, and they had a secretary. We had to spread out the everyday paperwork over more people.
CRAWFORD: And part of that's a function of the Institute just getting bigger and having more scientists working and so forth.
CRAWFORD: Prior to this period of growth, say in the late ‘80s, around the time ALCOM is happening and so forth, was typing up articles and typing up dissertations a major task of the clerical staff? I know you said you weren’t doing so much of that.
LANDRY: In the LCI, there was one secretary who did that, and most of it was for the chemist, Dr. Mary Neubert. Professor Saupe held a faculty position in Physics, but he worked full-time at the LCI. I don't know if the secretary did his work. I really don't know how he handled that. But of course, we all worked when it was time for grant applications.
CRAWFORD: The grant applications were quite a bit of work?
CRAWFORD: I know that patenting became more of an activity of the Institute over time, as—I imagine there were more connections with industry and you were doing more work oriented toward applications and so forth. Did the administrative staff handle patents as well?
LANDRY: I don't remember that we did. I think they mostly went through a patent attorney. But that is something you would have to cover with Dr. Doane. I think perhaps the initial work was done by people working in the labs, and once it was obvious that there was a possibility of pursuing a patent, then it went to the legal people. I think the LCI played a major role in hiring a vice president for research. I'm not sure he was called that when he was first hired. I can't remember his name now, but I remember him coming to interview. I went along with one of the other staff members to take him out to lunch. I don't remember what was going on at the time that the two of us went along with him. But he was hired, and he was an excellent person. My mind is blank now on his name. He was there for a long time, and I think he moved on to maybe Ohio State. His name was Greg someone. (3)
CRAWFORD: I think I know who you are talking about. I can follow up with you about that.
LANDRY: Okay. But he was very good. He worked closely with the scientists when it came time to do the patenting and other research opportunities.
CRAWFORD: He was working partly on technology transfer, patenting.
CRAWFORD: That would make sense, as the Liquid Crystal Institute was doing more of that work, and the University was wanting to support that work, hiring someone dedicated to that sort of work. Again, thinking about the development and changes in the Liquid Crystal Institute, I know we've already talked a little bit about ALCOM and the impact it had on your role at the Institute, becoming the business manager and so forth. What did you see as the impact ALCOM had on the Liquid Crystal Institute as an institution? Obviously, it brought in funding.
LANDRY: That was what led to its growth to 100 people. Actually there were other grants at the same time. I think the total amount of funding from ALCOM was $13 million. Of that, I believe Kent State had 56%, and the rest was split between Case and Akron. It funded a lot of postdoc support, and then we could buy out time from the staff members, which gave us money to do other things with, of course.
CRAWFORD: Do you recall what sorts of things that funding was used for? Was it put back into research, buying equipment, things like that?
LANDRY: I think ALCOM funded some equipment; most of it funded personnel.
CRAWFORD: So that was its main focus.
LANDRY: Mmhmm. Then, we could use some of the money we recovered by faculty appointments to ALCOM for things like sending people to liquid crystal conferences or SID conferences. We supported a lot of people that way and gave many of the graduate students opportunities they would not have had before.
CRAWFORD: And those were opportunities to go to these conferences and network professionally and those sorts of things?
LANDRY: Right. LCI was always a major presence at these conferences. Dr. Doane became the—either—I don’t know if he was called president or chairman of the International Liquid Crystal Society, which he was essential in getting started. Because there had been no formal organization of liquid crystal scientists before that. There was some money left over from earlier conferences, but it was in an account, and it had an IRS ID number. It had never been registered with the state of Ohio, it had never given a formal report to the IRS. So one of the things I did was I got it registered as a business league in the state of Ohio. Then, when it was underway, I served as a de facto treasurer, although somebody else had the title. And then, we were the membership headquarters. I know we had over 700 members by the time it was fully operational. Of course then there was an international committee that awarded sites for the conferences. I know one year, the year we went to France, which I think was 1994, we had a lot of money, and we gave many awards to grad students—they were only for grad students, from different parts of the world, and enabled them to attend the conference.
CRAWFORD: Wow. It sounds like the International Liquid Crystal Society [ILCS] was an important component of building this network of students and scholars associated with the Liquid Crystal Institute.
LANDRY: Yes, it was. It really was. The meetings were huge. I think that you could—the magazine Molecular Crystals and Liquid Crystals—have you heard of it?
CRAWFORD: No, I haven’t.
LANDRY: They would publish the proceedings of the Liquid Crystal Conferences. I think there may be a collection of the abstract books in the LCI. It would show you the size of this conference. It was huge and it was in fascinating places. The first one I went to was in 1984 in York, England. I heard it was going to be there. I said, "I'm going to that conference if I have to go as a concubine."
CRAWFORD: [Laugh] Why did you want to go to York, England, in particular?
LANDRY: I had been to England once before. My sister lived there. Her husband had a Naval appointment in London, so I'd been there to visit her. But I always found England fascinating based on my interest in Victorian novels. And of course, York is a fascinating city. Absolutely fascinating. We stayed in a bed and breakfast and could look out the window and see the facade of York Minster. It was a fantastic meeting. Fantastic.
CRAWFORD: Wow. You mentioned attending meetings at York, and I think you mentioned France as well. Were there other locations that stand out to you?
LANDRY: All of them do. We went to Germany in 1988. I think the 1990 meeting was Canada, '92 was Italy, '94 was France, '96 it was in Kent. 1998, where did we go in ’98? 2000, we went to Japan. 2002, we went to Scotland. Where did we go in 1998? Hungary! We went to Hungary. So, all fascinating places, and the hosts in those places made sure we had opportunities to see things that you just wouldn't get if you were on your own as a tourist. Everybody was so hospitable. They were really wonderful experiences.
CRAWFORD: Of course the opportunity to visit these places sounds really excellent. In terms of the meetings of the Society, what was your role at the meetings?
LANDRY: Originally, I went as an accompanying person and paid my own way.
CRAWFORD: Oh, really?
LANDRY: Yes. But beginning in 1990, when we had organized the ILCS, then I went to report to the committee that ran it and to handle membership applications. A lot of people could pay there because of problems with money exchanges. We were very generous for people who had limited means. And I think we had a discounted rate for grad students, so we did a lot of recruiting at those meetings. But I had enough free time to be a tourist. One interesting memory I have is writing to my mother the day, in 1994, when I was going with the Doanes to China—Dr. Doane had been invited to speak at Tsinghua University. I wrote to my mother that it was a long way from Dos Palos to taking an airplane to China. Thanks to these connections, I've climbed the Great Wall twice, I've seen the warriors at Xi'An, I visited Chichen Itza. When I was in Italy, one time I went to see Pompeii, the Sistine Chapel. Really, when I think back on it, this all just opened the world to me.
CRAWFORD: I'm curious if you had any idea, in 1983, that that was going to be part of the experience.
LANDRY: No idea. I knew there had been a conference in 1982, and I'd heard about it, but it never occurred to me that I could be part of this. Really, it was fascinating.
CRAWFORD: Once this International Liquid Crystal Society was constituted, did the Liquid Crystal Institute run it? Or did it have its own organizational structure?
LANDRY: Dr. Doane was the president or the chairman (4) of it, and because it was registered in the state of Ohio, we had to have an officer in Ohio, and usually that was the treasurer. I think the first one was at Case Western Reserve. But it was an honorary title, let’s say, because the money was in Kent.
CRAWFORD: Do you have a sense of—establishing the Society, was this part of Dr. Doane's plan for developing the LCI? Or was it something that just kind of presented itself?
LANDRY: I think it was more of a sideline. The conferences started in 1965, the second one was in 1968, then it was biennial after that in all different parts of the world. My first experience of it was in 1984.
CRAWFORD: These are the conferences Dr. Brown had started coincident with the establishment of the Liquid Crystal Institute.
CRAWFORD: Then, Dr. Doane takes this additional step of constituting this Society rather than it just being a by…
LANDRY: I don't know who exactly had this idea, but I know we worked with it. The secretary of the LCI at that time, Alice Milhaus, actually designed the logo. It was a picture of the world with ILCS on the equator.
CRAWFORD: Certainly seems appropriate because it sounds like, again from what you were saying earlier about the recruitment efforts and everything, that the liquid crystal community, whether it was at the LCI or just at large, was very international.
LANDRY: Yes, it was. And the editor of the ILCS magazine was actually in England. And actually one issue included a picture of me at the Great Wall. [Laugh]
CRAWFORD: We'll have to find that for posterity.
LANDRY: I don't know if anyone kept a collection of those magazines. I have no idea.
CRAWFORD: I know there are some materials at the LCI, but I don't know if those magazines are there. We can certainly take a look. Having worked with the Physics Department and your interactions with the Physics Department and maybe other science departments on campus, would you say that the Liquid Crystal Institute, for its time, and in comparison to some of the other units on campus, was unusually international and diverse?
LANDRY: I think it was unusually international, yes. We had visitors from everywhere. We had people from India, all parts of Europe, Jamaica. Someone asked a visitor from Jamaica what language they spoke there. [Laugh]
CRAWFORD: You mentioned the challenges of helping people settle in and so forth, but was it ever difficult to have so many different people from so many different places at the LCI?
LANDRY: No, everybody enjoyed them. Everybody. I don't remember ever having a real conflict with anybody. We did everything we could to make them comfortable. We even had a visitor from East Germany when it was isolated. We had visitors from Russia. Really we were acquainted with people from all parts of the world.
CRAWFORD: I can imagine that because of these International Liquid Crystal meetings, some of these individuals probably knew each other from those events and so forth.
LANDRY: Yes, they did. And they would get together and have reminiscing sessions, because one of them was an expert in limericks. [Laugh]
CRAWFORD: Oh, really!
LANDRY: Yes. They'd get together and have laugh sessions over this. There were social occasions as well as scientific exchanges.
CRAWFORD: Are you talking about at the Society meetings?
LANDRY: At the international conferences, yes. because we always had an afternoon of some conference occasion, and there was always a nice dinner with a speaker. I think when ALCOM was launched, I believe is when we had Pierre de Gennes, a Nobel Prize winner, come and speak at the dinner. We had a lot of really—I don’t know how to say it—fantastic opportunities there.
CRAWFORD: Being able to bring people to the Institute is a benefit to the faculty there and the graduate students, to build those connections. I wonder if you could just say a little bit—and then maybe we can take a short break—about the importance of these kind of social events at the Institute. Was there a vibrant social life at the Institute? Or was it built mostly around when there were guest speakers and so forth?
LANDRY: The Physics Department and the LCI shared a seminar program on alternate weeks, which always included a social hour before the lecture started. Lectures at those meetings were sometimes outsiders, sometimes staff members. But it always included a social hour. My own specialty was, at Thanksgiving, to make sure that any visitors we had enjoyed an American Thanksgiving dinner. When my granddaughter was in college, someone said, "We're having 12 people for Thanksgiving." My granddaughter said, "Twelve? My grandma always has 35." [Laugh] And we had social occasions when somebody’s significant birthdays or some other occasion happened. We went to people's weddings and so on. It was social as well as intellectual.
CRAWFORD: I can imagine those sorts of things helped to build the culture of the LCI.
LANDRY: Yes, I would say they did. It was enjoyable, too.
CRAWFORD: We talked about the academic side and a little bit about the social culture of the Liquid Crystal Institute. You were saying earlier on that part of Dr. Doane’s vision, part of the work that you were doing when you came to the Institute and really throughout, is trying to build relations with industry and so forth. I wonder if you could say a little bit more about what the relationship with industry was like. What was the Institute's relationship with industry?
LANDRY: Most of those connections were through the individual scientists. The part the office staff played really was record-keeping for using the money and helping make reports and things like that.
CRAWFORD: So individual scientists were really responsible for building those relationships?
LANDRY: Yes, yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: Did industry provide funding directly to the Institute?
LANDRY: Yes, quite a few of them. Of course, the support was smaller, but it might fund a graduate student, or part of a postdoc's salary, or a faculty salary for, say, a month in the summer, something like that. I have to say that really Dr. Doane changed the direction of the Institute in starting these connections with industry. It made a lot of difference. One of your questions was about the main challenges of the LCI. The main challenge was space. Really—space. Originally, Dr. Doane worked on an application for what was called the Science Research Lab, and he asked the state for support for a building for the LCI. When the award came in, it was sent to the dean of Arts and Sciences who said, "Oh, great. We have space for Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and the LCI." So, really, space was at a premium. It really was a premium. It became a considerable problem as we got more and more people, especially after the award of ALCOM. After that, we got an award for the Liquid Crystal Institute building, a stand-alone building. When we originally moved in in 1996, there were actually some empty spaces, but they didn't last long. As we hired more people, we filled up the spaces. But that was a nice building. I think I was in every part of it, including the mechanical. I don't remember exactly why I was in there, but it was something to do with air handlers.
CRAWFORD: Before that building in 1996, the Liquid Crystal Institute was sharing space in one of the other science buildings?
LANDRY: Yes. The Science Research Lab connected Chemistry and Physics. It was kind of awkward the way they—I'm sure you’ve been—well, I don’t know if you've been in that building.
CRAWFORD: No, I don’t think I have.
LANDRY: Take a tour sometime.
CRAWFORD: I will.
LANDRY: Just to see. I don’t know what it’s used for now. Do you know the old Liquid Crystal Institute building on Lincoln Street?
CRAWFORD: Yeah, I haven't been in there, but I know where it is.
LANDRY: After we moved out, I think it was made a regional campus offices or something?
CRAWFORD: Yeah, some kind of—it has changed function, even since I've come to Kent State, a couple of times.
LANDRY: At the time of the problems around the late ‘60s and ‘70, the doors were actually chained shut because people thought they were doing stuff for the military, which of course was not true. But, those things happened.
CRAWFORD: Again, I read some of the Kent Stater articles around that, and the Liquid Crystal Institute was taking money from the Department of Defense, but that doesn't necessarily mean they were working on military applications.
LANDRY: One interesting thing is, because of a grant from DARPA that was made to Michael Lee from Physics, Kent State had one of the first email connections in the country.
CRAWFORD: Wow. Because of that DARPA connection.
LANDRY: Yes, because it was really called DARPANet (5) when it was started. Did you know that?
CRAWFORD: I've heard that before, yeah. So, did you get an email address through that system?
LANDRY: No. Dr. Lee was one of the associate directors at that time, and the person he was working with would do the messages for us. But it wasn't long until—and I think Dr. Lee was responsible for getting Kent—the domain name, Kent.edu—once it expanded. But of course the whole world has changed since that day. But really, Kent State was on the ground floor.
CRAWFORD: To your point about space, I would just comment that it seems like a refrain throughout the history of the LCI. Dr. Brown's earliest director’s reports talked about the lack of space, so I think it was a running thread.
LANDRY: I think at that time, in that building, there were only three or four lab spaces. I know Dr. Saupe had one in the basement. Dr. de Vries, who did X-ray work, was in there. Mary Neubert had her chemistry labs on the top floor. I think it's only a two-story building.
CRAWFORD: Yeah, it is. Certainly, compared to some of the science buildings on campus now, it's very small.
LANDRY: Yes, it was very small. Because of that, many of the people connected with the LCI worked in either Chemistry or Physics.
CRAWFORD: This issue of space, the Liquid Crystal Institute was world-renowned. You mentioned that the time that you started there, in 1983, it had kind of started to become a little stagnant, maybe. But it still had built a significant reputation, I think globally, and was a significant research center on campus. Does this say something about the relationship between the Liquid Crystal Institute and the University? I'm wondering what your sense of that relationship was like.
LANDRY: I think once Dr. Doane described his plans, we always had significant support from the University. I think the University people always supported us with the state. I think when we got ALCOM, we may have even had a state presence at the announcement of it because that was a big deal.
CRAWFORD: I think I've seen some of the photographs from when that was announced.
LANDRY: I don't remember who came. I don’t know if we got the governor—I don’t remember that—but it was an important step.
CRAWFORD: Sure. But generally, the University liked what Dr. Doane was doing and was supportive of this turn towards industry?
LANDRY: Yes. It meant adding funds to hire new staff all the time, so that made a big difference.
CRAWFORD: In addition to this issue of space, which I can appreciate is a very real challenge, were there other challenges in terms of managing a scientific institution, especially, say, when ALCOM got started and things are getting much bigger? Are there any particular things that stand out as particularly challenging?
LANDRY: I don't recall that there were. We just sort of absorbed what we had to do in our daily schedule. Of course, we had spent a lot of time just in preparing for this grant and hoping we would get it. At the time we were awarded the site visit, Dr. Doane was actually on vacation. He was at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on a tour. When we got the call, I think Peter Palffy—do you know about Peter Palffy?
CRAWFORD: I know who he is. I haven't met with him yet.
LANDRY: I think he took the call, and he called and had Dr. Doane paged at Wright-Pat (6) so he could give him the news. [Laugh] I think this was in the summer, and we had the site visit in November, maybe the week before Thanksgiving. Then we didn't hear about the award until maybe early January, and it started in March, something like that.
CRAWFORD: Was it difficult to prepare for the site visit?
LANDRY: It was just a lot of work, making plans of who to speak, and what to describe, and who would attend. We had it at a hotel in Akron, I believe.
CRAWFORD: Did they come over to the Liquid Crystal Institute and see the facilities?
LANDRY: That part, I don't remember. Surely, they did.
CRAWFORD: That would've been before that new building was built. LCI was in that other space.
LANDRY: Yes, it was. And really there was a big expansion, and that's when we noticed the space limitations the most.
CRAWFORD: When ALCOM gets funded, does that become the major source of funding for the LCI? Does it overshadow all the other sources?
LANDRY: It overshadowed all the other sources because it was millions of dollars, something like, I don’t know, it was over a million dollars a year. At the same time, people were still getting support from other sources. Of course those two things fed the expansion.
CRAWFORD: I'm not asking that question to make it seem like those other sources of funding were insignificant, just trying to get a sense of the importance of ALCOM to the LCI. Would you see the ALCOM grant as part of this trajectory that Dr. Doane had set the LCI on?
LANDRY: Yes, because when this program was first announced, he said that he was going to aim for that. It was really disappointing when the first application wasn't successful. I don't remember how many awards were made, but I think it was less than 15 nationwide.
CRAWFORD: Fairly competitive.
LANDRY: Yes, and I would say that ALCOM met the goals that were outlined in that application.
CRAWFORD: Oh, yeah?
LANDRY: Yes. I would say that it did.
CRAWFORD: What were the goals of ALCOM?
LANDRY: It was using liquid crystals for optical uses. And of course who hasn’t heard of the applications of the LCD?
CRAWFORD: Right. My understanding of the program that funded ALCOM from the NSF was specifically part of that program was to encourage this kind of work, focusing on scientific applications and so forth.
LANDRY: Yes, several businesses were spinoffs from ALCOM. And I didn't have any connection with them; I just know that they happened.
CRAWFORD: Things like Kent Displays.
LANDRY: Yes. And at least three others, I think. Dr. West had one. I don’t know if he spoke about that.
CRAWFORD: He didn't mention anything in particular. He did mention some recent businesses, one in particular that he's involved in.
LANDRY: Seven West or something?
CRAWFORD: This is something called Flex Matters, that’s using liquid crystals in fabrics and so forth.
LANDRY: Right, and I know people are working on a flexible display and all kinds of things.
CRAWFORD: Right. But I know there were several businesses that came out of that.
LANDRY: Dr. Yang, one of the members of the LCI staff, he’s a native of China, and he still sends me his papers to check the English on.
CRAWFORD: Oh, really? [Laugh] So you haven't fully retired. [Laugh]
LANDRY: No, I haven't fully retired. I know his papers are always interesting, and he has some fascinating ideas about using liquid crystals in car windows. I gave him some advice on that paper and suggested if he patents it, that I get a 10% commission. [Laugh] Of course since he’s a native speaker of Chinese, he had a long way to go to master English. I don't think he needs me, really. I know he used the word “facile” in one paper, and I suggested he change it because it has negative connotations. That's a minor recommendation considering the level of papers that he writes. I skip all the equations.
CRAWFORD: [Laugh] I'm curious, in your time at the Liquid Crystal Institute, obviously we talked about Dr. Doane quite a bit, and you've mentioned some other individuals. Who would you say are the key figures for the Institute in the 20 years that you were associated with it?
LANDRY: I think all of the faculty people, because really, they drove the activities. They were all very busy all the time. You can tell from the reports we put out, the level of publications, and so on. Because I think they really outperformed many people in other departments of science, because there was so much being done and so much to report.
CRAWFORD: Really, again, going back to what you were saying about this unique community of scientists and faculty that Dr. Doane managed to assemble. I wonder if you have any suggestions on why they were so productive.
LANDRY: They enjoyed their work. And they had students who were productive. I think I mentioned to you about Greg Crawford, who's now president of Miami University. Just if you look at his record alone of somebody who went through the LCI, what he accomplished is staggering. He went first to work at the Naval Research Lab, he moved to Xerox. He went from there to Brown University, and from there, he went to Notre Dame, where he was dean for research. Now, he's president of Miami University. Similar trajectory for Joe Whitehead, who's vice president and provost of Bowling Green. He went first to some university in Atlanta—was it Emory?—from there to Southern Mississippi, where he was a professor and a dean, and then to North Carolina A&T, where he was VP and provost, and now he's at a similar job at Bowling Green. They were both productive scientists all the way through their careers.
CRAWFORD: Would you say that the Liquid Crystal Institute imparted a work ethic to them and its students and alumni and so forth?
LANDRY: I think they came to us with that work ethic. I know with Joe Whitehead, he went to Delta State in Mississippi, and he came to Kent State because they had a program for graduate students who had missed some required element for continuing their careers. But he played football, and the coach asked him to stay an extra year because he was a redshirt. And he said, "No, I want to be a scientist. I'm moving on." So, I think they already had this initiative, and it was recognized.
CRAWFORD: It certainly sounds like the Liquid Crystal Institute, again because of its established reputation, was probably able to attract individuals like that at all levels.
LANDRY: Yes, exactly.
CRAWFORD: I want to ask some bigger questions reflecting on your time at the Liquid Crystal Institute. I know we've talked about the growth of the Institute, the change of direction. Are there any other significant developments or significant differences in the Liquid Crystal Institute when you retired in 2002 versus when you started in 1983?
LANDRY: Just the size of it, and the redirection of interests into the optical and display applications.
CRAWFORD: Those two things really sound like they reshaped the Institute in a significant way.
LANDRY: Yes, they did.
CRAWFORD: What about your experience as an individual at the Liquid Crystal Institute? What would you say are the most significant achievements of your career at the Liquid Crystal Institute?
LANDRY: I think, partly, it’s just holding it together and handling the day-to-day operations. As much as I could, I would solve whatever problems came up before turning them over to Dr. Doane or Dr. West, who followed him. I tried to keep their time directed to the scientific part of it and handle really the mundane operations of day to day. Building problems, for instance. Because there always are building problems of one sort or another. Suggesting different ways to solve space problems. Because we had to often double up office occupancy and things like that. We were always having to buy more furniture, or build more cabinets, or work on furnishing a lab when we moved into that new building. Because some of them were not equipped at the time we moved in. And so as we added people, we would have to bring their labs up to code.
CRAWFORD: So you really saw your role as trying to deal with as many of these sorts of things so that Dr. Doane, Dr. West, the other faculty and researchers at the LCI could really focus on doing the science or doing the other activities in support of science?
LANDRY: Yes, exactly.
CRAWFORD: That's certainly a significant contribution, like you said, sort of holding things together. I wonder if you could say a little bit about maybe what was your favorite part of working at the LCI. You've mentioned a number of positive experiences that you had. It doesn't have to be your favorite part, but favorite part or parts.
LANDRY: I really think my favorite part was solving intricate problems, handling things like visa applications. Really it was a challenge to do all the work with the ILCS and all the registration with the state. I have to say, the state people and the IRS people helped me get through it. Because when I started trying to solve this problem, I had no idea where to go. The problems started because the conference, in 1996, (7) made $28,000 in profit, and the IRS wanted an accounting of where that money came from. That was when I found out that nothing had ever been registered. I went to work on solving that problem and getting it—let’s see, that was in ninety…’86.. It took me until '90, really, to get—because in 1990 at the conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, I made a report to the committee that was running the conference on how we had resolved the problems. Then, from there, the ILCS took off. I enjoyed that kind of challenge.
CRAWFORD: An organizational and logistical challenge.
LANDRY: Yes. And I enjoyed working with Dr. Doane on budgeting problems because we had to make reports on everybody and what they had done. We always had limited amounts of money to assign raises and things like that. I worked closely with him on that sort of thing.
CRAWFORD: Were those reports for the National Science Foundation, the University?
LANDRY: Those were internal. Among all the other things, I was the budget officer.
CRAWFORD: A lot of professionals have professional organizations. I don’t know if there’s like a business managers organization or something like that, if you were involved with that, or in contact with your counterparts at other scientific or research institutes, and if you have a sense of how your experience compares to theirs?
LANDRY: I think the closest I came to that was the administrators in the science and technology centers. I can't recall that anything anybody else had to say affected how we were running our science and technology center. But I think in many ways, we did a better job than some people.
CRAWFORD: Why do you say that?
LANDRY: At one meeting, at Urbana-Champaign, someone stood up and talked about how he had advised people to change their presentation so they could keep their money. [Laugh] I think they didn't last because they were in trouble about really not meeting the goals they had described in their application. The fact that he gave this sort of presentation said something about what they were doing and what we were doing. Because I have to say that we really did meet the goals that were outlined in that application.
CRAWFORD: It sounds like you're talking about these meetings that happened as part of ALCOM.
CRAWFORD: With the directors and administrators from the other centers that were funded by that NSF vehicle. Yes, I understand what you're saying. I'm getting a sense of the importance of ALCOM to the Liquid Crystal Institute and the work that was done, and I know you retired—you mentioned earlier that writing that last ALCOM report was, if not the last, but one of the last things that you did, and you wanted to do it. What was it like when ALCOM ended? That was 13 years of funding and activity.
LANDRY: Of course, we were going to be losing some money, needless to say. But then, some other grants had picked up some of the support. Little by little, some of the people, especially the grad students, had jobs and were moving on to other avenues of work. I was only there three or four months after ALCOM ended, but I thought that was an appropriate time. I was at Kent State almost 25 years, and I was ready to have less stress. [Laugh] By then, my son had adopted one child and was adopting another one, and I wanted to take part in that.
CRAWFORD: I wonder if given your 25 years of experience working in administering and managing communities of scientists, scientific institutes, do you have any advice on how to do that successfully?
LANDRY: I did as much as possible to support what they wanted to do. I can't remember really feeling like I needed to discourage whatever it was they were planning. Most of the time, what they wanted to do was successful, but nothing breeds success like success.
CRAWFORD: So supporting successful activities.
CRAWFORD: I have one final question that's related to what has been going on the last year. I'll ask you that, and then invite you if there's anything that we've missed. This being the summer of 2021, we've been dealing now for a year and a half with the COVID pandemic. Given that we're living still in this context, I wonder if you would be willing to share some thoughts or reflections about living through the pandemic, how it has affected you.
LANDRY: It was startling, needless to say. I remember the day we heard that the first case had been found in Kentucky. It was March 6th or March 9th. (8) Then, by the middle of the month, we were essentially shut down. Our governor was giving a report every day. Of course, all the signs were ominous. All my volunteer and social activities disappeared. I think beginning on March 15th, the youngest of my sons, who is a schoolteacher in Ohio, started to call me every day, and called me every day for 465 days. But he has four children. His daughter was planning her wedding for March 28th. The whole family was looking forward to it. Everything was canceled. They had the wedding with 11 people, sent out some pictures, and that was over. One thing I started doing was making quilts from donated materials. I had joined a group here that makes quilts just for people in the county and city, and I kept doing that. That kept me busy.
CRAWFORD: It certainly has changed our lives.
LANDRY: It did. It certainly did.
CRAWFORD: It really did. Thank you for sharing that. I wonder if there's anything else you'd like to say about your time at the Liquid Crystal Institute.
LANDRY: You had a question about women working in a male-dominated society. We did not have many women, either grad students or faculty. Of course, Dr. Mary Neubert was really the principal scientist making these liquid crystal materials. I know she's retired now, but I think she must have done it for 35 years. She trained a lot of people in her labs, male and female. I know one of her helpers who was popular with everybody in the LCI went on to work at Eli Lilly. She was really a good guide for these blossoming scientists. They learned a lot from her, and they went on to do some good work. But I think it's still a problem with women, and I don't know what the answer is. Of course, things have improved, but—
CRAWFORD: I appreciate that reflection. It's interesting to read about Dr. Neubert. She wrote a short reflection for the 50th anniversary of the LCI and talked about her experiences. If memory serves correctly, I think she was basically one of the founding members of the LCI.
LANDRY: She was. I don't know what year she was hired, but she was already there when I joined in '83.
CRAWFORD: She did have a very long career. And you're right, if you look at the personnel of the LCI over time, it is predominantly male, and I think that's a reflection of larger trends in scientific disciplines.
LANDRY: Yes. I know she could design these unique materials. I don't need to tell you that I didn't understand her work.
CRAWFORD: [Laugh] Did you know her well?
LANDRY: Yes. Because she was still working there at the time I left. And she had already groomed another female chemist to follow in the footsteps of the one who left to go to Eli Lilly. And I think this lady was recruited by Eli Lilly based on a report she gave at a conference. The person saw her work.
CRAWFORD: Yet again, those conferences seem to play an important role.
LANDRY: I think it was an American Chemical Society conference.
CRAWFORD: Still the same kind of networking opportunities and so forth.
LANDRY: Exactly. All in all, I enjoyed all those years, and I really benefitted personally from it, needless to say, not just from staying interested in what was going on, but all the opportunities I had for making these connections with people, all the international travel. I never would have expected that, given where I grew up. It just didn't occur to me that I could ever do that sort of travel. It has made my life interesting.
CRAWFORD: That’s great. It really does sound like it was a really great experience.
LANDRY: It was.
CRAWFORD: If you don't have anything else to share, I'll thank you again for doing this interview.
LANDRY: You're welcome. It's been interesting.
CRAWFORD: I really appreciate it.
Liquid Crystal Oral History: Landry, Elaine
Crawford, Matthew James
An oral history interview with Elaine Landry, Business Manager (1983-2002) at the Liquid Crystal Institute. This interview is part of the Liquid Crystal Oral History Project. Landry shares her educational background and her role in supporting the Liquid Crystal Institute. Born in Texas and raised in California, Landry attained a degree in English from the University of California and later completed a bachelor’s degree in education at Kent State University after moving to Ohio with her husband. She began her career at Kent State University in the Department of Physics undertaking recordkeeping and accounting duties, which is where she met Dr. J. William Doane. Landry started at the Liquid Crystal Institute (LCI) in a contract position handling paperwork and working with Dr. Doane to form closer ties between the LCI and industry. She explains how she assisted LCI scientists by editing and problem-solving elements of grant proposals so they would have more time to focus on their research. Landry then provides insight on the recruitment process of the LCI and how it was mostly advertisement based. She explains how securing the Advanced Liquid Crystalline Optical Materials (ALCOM) Center grant affected the LCI, most notably how the ALCOM grant brought in extra funding that supported the expansion of the LCI. Landry also discusses the LCI’s international presence with its involvement in the International Liquid Crystal Society.
Sponsors: This oral history interview was funded in part by a Grant-In-Aid from the Center for the History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics.
The Liquid Crystal Oral History Project is funded in part by the Ohio History Fund, a grant program of the Ohio History Connection. Your donations to the Ohio History Fund make this program possible.
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