Prof. Emeritus Glenn E. Stoner of the University of Virginia (UVA) passed away on August 9, 2023, after a brief illness.
Glenn’s professional life is summarized in the History of ECS section of The Electrochemical Society’s website,(1) and his papers published in JES are part of a collection.(2) More of his work can be found in other journals such as CORROSION.(3) But those sites describe only a small part of the true impact that Glenn had. After earning his degrees at the Missouri School of Mines (B.S. and M.S.) and the University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D.), Glenn eventually joined the faculty of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UVA in 1973, where he decided to use his understanding of the fundamentals of electrochemistry to address practical problems.
Glenn’s superpower was his ability to educate and develop students and colleagues. It sounds like an obvious role for a professor, but he was simply great at it, and he did it in the most gentle and kindest way. An early demonstration of this superpower was his hiring of George Cahen as a Ph.D. student and Louie Scribner (founder of Scribner Associates) as a lab manager to establish the Applied Electrochemistry Laboratory (AEL). It was a single laboratory, as in one room. But Glenn was exceptional at grantsmanship, so he quickly had several research projects that used electrochemical processes to address a range of problems. George and Louie were tasked with meeting the promises Glenn made to sponsors. One of their earliest research programs looked for ways to use electrochemistry to sanitize human wastewater, which was of great interest to the U.S. Navy. Although a successful technology was created with numerous patents, it was not embraced by the Navy, so it sat for about 25 years before one of Glenn’s sons, Brian, and a former student, Jeff Glass, resurrected it with funding from the Gates Foundation as part of the Reinventing the Toilet program(4) aimed at bringing safe sanitation to roughly half the world’s population that does not have it. He expanded his research into corrosion in the 1990’s, especially Al alloy corrosion and surface treatments.
The success of the Navy project begat additional programs. As the promises accumulated, the laboratory grew, and Glenn was able to recruit exceptional students to perform the work as he helped them develop into professionals. His emphasis on the “applied” part of the AEL was one of the reasons he attracted very accomplished students, but he also attracted students who were uncertain that they belonged in graduate school. But Glenn was never uncertain, and that unwavering, deep, and heartfelt dedication was incredibly inspiring. Students simply did not want to let Glenn down, so they achieved to an extent that they would never have dreamed. Glenn created tremendous camaraderie amongst the MSE students and especially within AEL, even pitching for the department softball team and drinking a beverage or three afterwards.
Over the next three decades, Glenn expanded the AEL into the multi-departmental Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering (CESE). He did so with a gentle hand and a keen eye for the type of people who would flourish if given the means to do so. By the mid-1990s, the CESE was going strong with 6 faculty and 30 graduate students, graduating 7 or more graduate degrees each year. Glenn sent his students all over the world and brought in world-class expertise, such as that of his friend Eliezer Gileadi (University of Tel Aviv) as a visiting scientist. Glenn and George’s Ph.D. students went on to incredibly successful careers and, in a few cases, yielded academic grandchildren, in the academic sense, who were in turn quite successful. His graduates include several professors, a few engineering school deans, some notable small company CEOs and several chief technical officers of large technology companies.
Since Glenn’s retirement, the CESE has continued to educate and develop young scientists and engineers, as well as add to the body of knowledge in electrochemistry and corrosion. Today, there are over 100 graduates of the CESE (M.S. and Ph.D.), and the CESE is one of the leading centers of excellence in corrosion internationally. In June 2024, the CESE will celebrate 50 years of electrochemical science and engineering in the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science. Although Glenn will not be there in person, he will certainly be present in spirit and will be the subject of much of the celebration.
No mention of Glenn is complete without recognizing the role Marlene played. Together for more than 61 years, they were equal partners at a time when that was unusual, to say the least. Besides hosting innumerable parties and get-togethers for students and their spouses, or sometimes future spouses, Glenn and Marlene were also the housing of last resort on more than one occasion. The informal “bed and breakfast” at Thomson Road was always open. But they didn’t just give people a place to live; the guests became part of their large professional family. For people going through hard times, they were lifesavers. For all of those who were recipients of that kindness, Glenn’s passing hits particularly close to home.
Glenn was well loved in life and will be missed terribly. We know that he is fishing somewhere, probably with Eliezer Gileadi, his dear friend and de facto advisor, sitting next to him, trying to get Glenn to listen to a new theory.