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Obituary: Harry Coover, scientist

Harry Wesley Coover Jr, scientist. Born: 6 March, 1917, in Newark, Delaware. Died: 26 March, 2011, in Kingsport, Tennessee, aged 94.

Harry Wesley Coover Jr, the man who invented Super Glue, has died from congestive heart failure.

Coover first happened upon the super-sticky adhesive - more formally known as cyanoacrylate - by accident when he was experimenting with acrylates for use in clear plastic gun-sights during the Second World War. He gave up because they stuck to everything they touched.

In 1951, a researcher named Fred Joyner, who was working with Coover at Eastman Kodak's laboratory in Tennessee, was testing hundreds of compounds while looking for a temperature- resistant coating for jet cockpits.

When Joyner spread the 910th compound on the list between two lenses on a refractometer to take a reading on the velocity of light through it, he discovered he could not separate the lenses. His initial reaction was panic at the loss of the expensive lab equipment. "He ruined the machine," said Coover's daughter Dr Melinda Coover of the refractometer. "Back in the 50s, they cost like $3,000, which was huge." But Coover saw an opportunity. Seven years later, the first incarnation of Super Glue, called Eastman 910, hit the market.

In the name of science, Joyner was not punished for destroying the equipment.

Not long afterwards, Coover made an appearance on the television show, I've Got a Secret. Coover's secret was that he had invented Super Glue, and he was asked to demonstrate what it could do.

A metal bar was lowered onto the stage, and Coover used a dab of the glue to connect two metal parts together. Then, his daughter recalled, he grabbed hold of one of the metal plates and was raised in the air on the strength of his invention.

Then the host of the show jumped on, too. "And this is live television. But it worked. It absolutely worked," she said.

Nonetheless, Kodak was never able to capitalise commercially on Coover's discovery. It sold the business to National Starch in 1980.

Coover obtained a master's degree and a PhD in chemistry from Cornell University. He worked at the Eastman Kodak Company until he retired and then worked as a consultant.

Last year, President Barack Obama awarded him the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Coover had been in hospital at the time, his daughter said, but his family made sure he was able to get to Washington for the award.

"That took a long time to percolate through," his son-in-law, Dr Vincent E Paul said. "So it was really nice that it came."

Coover held 460 patents by the end of his life. Nonetheless, his daughter noted, he didn't mind being known by his "most outstanding" invention.

"I think he got a kick out of being Mr Super Glue," she said."Who doesn't love Super Glue?"

One of his proudest accomplishments, she added, was that his invention was used to treat injured soldiers during the Vietnam War. Medics, she said, carried bottles of Super Glue in spray form to stop bleeding.

Super Glue did not make Coover rich. It did not become a commercial success until the patents had expired.

Besides his daugther, Coover is survived by two sons, Harry III and Stephen, and four grandchildren. His wife of more than 60 years, Muriel Zumbach Coover, died in 2005.

 
 
 

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