Serendipity was smiling on Arun Varshneya when he met Al Cooper in 1965. As Varshneya recounts during the Cooper Distinguished Lecture he delivered at the MS&T’12 conference, the two met when Cooper was taking a sabbatical year at Sheffield University (United Kingdom) where Varshneya was nearing the end of his undergraduate studies. Cooper supervised Varshneya’s senior thesis, and as the student’s graduation date approached, Cooper said, “Arun, you should come to Cleveland [and be my graduate student],” to which Varshneya says he replied simply, “OK.”
And so began a collaboration that lasted for the rest of Cooper’s life. Varshneya says that working for Cooper was “absolutely a wonderful experience, like a symphony where every note was darn close to being perfect.” He recounts that Cooper was one of the first to apply rigorous mathematical modeling to glass science, and even won NSF funding “to increase the mathematical competence of PhD students.”
Varshneya’s hour-long lecture includes many personal stories from his long friendship with Cooper, as well as some amusing anecdotes relating to his student experiences. He describes the arc of his own career-earning his MS and PhD from the (then) Case Institute of Technology, becoming a researcher at Ford Scientific Research Labs in Dearborn, Mich., joining the faculty at Alfred University and, eventually, starting his own company, Saxon Glass Technologies.
Al Cooper was a kind-hearted soul and, by all accounts from those who know his work or worked with him, a brilliant glass scientist. While Varshneya is highly accomplished in his own right (as the technical part of this talk clearly shows), his admiration and respect for his advisor and mentor shine through, for example, at one point he refers to his own graduate students as Cooper’s scientific grandchildren. Varshneya contributed more than the lecture to further Cooper’s legacy, though. At the end of the lecture, he and his wife announced a donation to the Cooper Session endowment to ensure the continuation of future Cooper Session lectures and awards.