Corning's Stookey was 'an inspiration to research community'
November 06, 2014
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Dr. S. Donald Stookey, whose 1952 discovery of glass-ceramics led to one of the most successful product lines in Corning Incorporated’s history, died Nov. 4, 2014. He was 99 years old and lived in
Dr. Stookey was born May 23, 1915, in Hay Springs, Neb. He joined Corning in 1940 shortly after earning his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He began to learn what he called the “exotic and mysterious” properties of glass chemistry from Corning innovation icons such as Dr. Jessie Littleton, Harrison Hood, and Dr. Bill Armistead. His experiments in photosensitive glass led to applications in both the ophthalmic and color television market.
Twelve years into his Corning career, Dr. Stookey discovered that some glass formulas, under intense heat, could become opaque, lightweight, and resistant to thermal shock. Corning patented the material as Pyroceram® glass-ceramics, the basis for the CorningWare® line that became a staple in the consumer cookware world for decades.
That innovation, along with other breakthrough exploratory research in the areas of photochromics and photosensitive glass, earned Dr. Stookey the National Medal of Technology in 1987, a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010, and a host of other prestigious recognitions. He earned 60 U.S. patents over the course of his career. Corning’s top award for its own leaders in exploratory research is named in Dr. Stookey’s honor.
Dr. David Morse, Corning’s chief technology officer, formed a close bond with Dr. Stookey shortly after joining Corning in 1976.
“He was fearless – the unknown never daunted him,” said David, whose first exposure to Corning’s collaborative innovation culture came from working with Dr. Stookey on photochromic glasses. David had just earned his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Stookey had retired from Corning, but remained a frequent consultant on new projects.
“I was always impressed by the depth of his knowledge,” David recalled. “He was an unassuming and quiet but tough person who made numerous inventions that led to major businesses for Corning Incorporated. Don was recognized throughout the glass technology community as a world-class scientist.”
David noted that Dr. Stookey’s exploratory spirit extended beyond the bounds of his scientific pursuits.
“He loved to fish. He survived a seaplane crash in freezing water near the Arctic Circle, with no one to rescue him,” David said. “The next year he went right back to fishing. There’s a real exploratory notion to that.”
Dr. Stookey and Dr. George Beall, a Corning Research Fellow, were longtime collaborators and friends. George wrote the following comments in the forward to Dr. Stookey’s 2000 autobiography, “Explorations in Glass:”
-- “Not only did Don challenge young scientists to stretch or redirect their conceptual thinking, but he always took a great interest in their families and recreational pastimes."
-- “Nothing was impossible in Don’s perceptive imagination; but, more importantly, he displayed just the right combination of technical skills, gritty persistence, and personal credibility to be able to assemble the resources for successful execution of his ideas.”
Besides his contributions to Corning’s innovation portfolio, Dr. Stookey was also dedicated to community service – in particular, issues facing the elderly population in Corning, N.Y. In the early 1970s, he helped lead a task force that eventually resulted in the construction of the Dayspring housing complex in Corning.