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ANAHEIM, CALIF.—Broadening educational opportunities in polymer matrix composites is critical to the industry's future, according to the 1997 recipient of a major Composites Manufacturing Association award.

``People have to learn what these materials can do for them and understand they are not just buying hardware,'' said James C. Leslie.

The aerospace-oriented composites fabricator, entrepreneur and inventor practices what he preaches.

``He brings industrial experience into the classroom, and that is what we need,'' said H. Thomas Hahn, professor of manufacturing engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Leslie donates materials for student use and lectures and conducts seminars at UCLA.

``Dr. Jim is self-motivated and uses his experience to mentor individuals ... and give back to the industry,'' said Terry Price, Composites Technology Center program chair at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif.

CMA, a unit of the Dearborn, Mich.-based Society of Manufacturing Engineers, presented Leslie with the Jud Hall award Jan. 21 during its conference in Anaheim. Created in 1985 and named for a former TRW Inc. engineer, the award recognizes contributions to the composites manufacturing profession. Hall, Leslie and Price were among CMA's founders.

Leslie developed advanced propulsion systems for solid rockets and conducted early research and design for fabrication of advanced composites for aircraft, satellite and golf shaft applications, mostly for Hercules Inc.

He is president and chief executive officer of Advanced Composite Products & Technology Inc., formed in 1979. In December, the city of Huntington Beach, Calif., nominated Leslie, 64, in the U.S. Small Business Administration's competition for small-business man of the year.

With sales of almost $4 million, Advanced Composite ranked 44th on the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County's 1996 Southern California Technology Fast 50 listing, based on 1991-95 percentage growth.

The firm employs 52, operates in a crowded, 13,600-square-foot facility in Huntington Beach and is negotiating to occupy the building next door. Advanced Composite designs, develops and makes advanced composite hardware with filament winding and hand layup being key processes.

The technology of advanced composites offers advantages over metal in appropriate applications and is ``starting to come to fruition,'' Leslie said. In one product niche, the CEO's son, James C. Leslie II, directs development of lightweight, vibration-damping carbon-fiber drive shafts, now in use on professional stock cars and, since 1994, in a test on a Texas garbage truck.

The lightness reduces rotational inertia, leaving more power for accelerating the race car.

A carbon-fiber drive shaft is safer than a metal one, which can shoot into a vehicle on failure, the CEO said. A fiber shaft fails catastrophically and poses no similar danger to the driver.