The University of Massachusetts at Lowell now has three faculty members in the Plastics Hall of Fame, as the hall welcomes Robert Malloy, chairman of the plastics engineering department for the past decade.
A Boston-area native, Malloy combines a love of the university's well-known plastics program with a respect for history.
In the 1800s, the booming textile mills of Lowell, Mass., helped drive the industrial revolution. Now Malloy wants UMass Lowell to house a Plastics History Center and a permanent home for the Plastics Hall of Fame.
In Orlando at NPE2012 this week, visitors can see the first display of the Plastics Hall of Fame, portable panels depicting the 10 new inductees.
Malloy even teaches a class in plastics history. “I don't think we can educate our students and bypass our history. That's an integral part of it. You learn how people did things,” he said.
Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., nominated Malloy for the hall. Malloy is working with Carteaux and Jay Gardiner, another new Plastics Hall of Famer, to create a place for the Plastics Hall of Fame in Lowell, after the National Plastics Center closed in 2008 in nearby Leominster, Mass., and moved to Syracuse University.
“I can personally vouch for his enthusiasm and dedication to this critical project,” Carteaux wrote. “He has invested personal time and money into the project.”
Malloy has been associated with UMass Lowell since the late 1970s as a student. He loves the plastics program, where students forge lifelong friendships with the faculty and staff.
Malloy, 55, joins two other UMass Lowell figures in the Plastics Hall of Fame: 1979 inductee Russell Ehlers, who started the plastics program in 1954, and 2000 inductee Rudolph Deanin, who spearheaded the graduate program. Ehlers hired Deanin as professor in 1967. Deanin died last year.
Lowell grads come out prepared for real-world jobs, with a polymer-leg up on other engineering candidates. “It's a focused program. It is similar to mechanical engineering, but it is very focused on plastics, and definitely it's a heavy emphasis in chemistry, which is required to really understand plastics,” Malloy said. “They know design, and they know heat transfer, like a mechanical engineer would do. But unlike a mechanical engineer, they also understand the materials part of it.”
Malloy's own history in plastics started out modestly. As a young man, he loved working with his hands, sculpting, fixing cars. “I could've flipped a coin from being an auto mechanic or engineer,” he said.
He decided on engineering, earning an associate's degree from a community college, Massachusetts Bay College, in 1976. Then he got into the UMass Lowell, picking up a bachelor's degree in plastics engineering. He caught the teaching bug in a summer job working in Algeria to develop manufacturing.
Malloy returned to UMass Lowell and earned a doctorate in polymer science in 1987. He became an assistant professor of plastics engineering, moving up to become full professor in 1995, then department chairman in 2002.
As chairman, Malloy has worked hard to connect with alumni. They're a tightknit group: UMass Lowell reunion dinners at industry events — including one Tuesday night at NPE — regularly draw several hundred boisterous River Hawks. That helps foster a team attitude, and donations of money and equipment for the program's laboratories.
The Plastics History Center will house some historical artifacts. Malloy is working with Syracuse to share items. Lowell students and faculty members will gather technical background and help do historical research.
For the Plastics Hall of Fame, students will digitize information about members.
Malloy hopes to have the hall and the history center at the university's Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center, set to open this fall. Details have not been worked out yet.
He is looking for physical items.
The plastics industry moves so quickly that it can be hard to look back, to document history. As time glides forward, Malloy is motivated.
“I just think I'm in a position to do it and I think somebody should do it. If I don't do it, my sense is it's not going to get done.”