For MSE alum Phil Krotz, work IS Rocket Science

In the late 80s, Phil Krotz was an aspiring engineering student pursuing both undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Metallurgical Engineering through the new BS/MS program. He graduated in 1987 with both degrees and was hired by Rockwell Collins International: Rocketdyne, where he put his degrees to use working as a true “Rocket Scientist” on materials development for rocket propulsion systems.

Phil now works for Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, and credits his success in the industry to two things: the concurrent BS/MS program – he was one of the first students to be enrolled in it in the 1985/1986 timeframe – and the opportunity he had to work at Ames Lab as an undergraduate student and gain valuable lab experience. He says, “It was unbelievable that they would entrust you to operate expensive lab equipment and handle extremely expensive rare earth metals. It greatly accelerated my career and was a key factor in getting my first job working for Rocketdyne.”

During his junior year Phil started working at Ames Lab for Bernie Beaudry in the Rare Earths group. He worked with many metals/materials that very few people get to work with, such as Holmium, Praseodymium,Gadolinium, Neodium, Lutecium, Scandium, etc. A major part of his job with Ames Lab was to prepare various size single crystals of pure rare earths or rare earth alloys. He was responsible for calculating, preparing and heat treating the alloys or pure metals to grow these crystals. This was followed by x-ray diffraction to align the axes of the crystal prior to cutting to the proper sample size. Another major part of his job was the purification of a large quantity of Scandium for a top secret application. At one time, Phil believes he probably had the world’s largest supply of Scandium. He was responsible for dissolving or putting the Scandium in solution and then purifying it via ion exchange. Ion exchange involved glass columns filled with resin that helped to separate the Scandium ions from the impurity ions. This involved hundreds of gallons of acids flowing through the columns and working in the “hot box”. The process was operated in a heated room with temperatures well over 100 degrees F. After weeks of ionic separation he would strip the columns of Scandium and precipitate it out of solution, which was followed by drying the Scandium oxide slurry. He is very grateful for that opportunity and that it helped him further his career, as this is “quite a process to be responsible for as a junior in college!”

Working at Ames Lab wasn’t the only task on Krotz’s plate though. He of course attended classes as well while at ISU. His favorites were Physical Metallurgy classes taught by Professor John Verhoeven, a former MSE professor who retired from ISU in 2000. Krotz liked that “He was such a good and enthusiastic teacher. The most memorable thing was how difficult it was to take notes, as he wrote so fast and filled up the chalk board wall to wall. He’d then used a floor mop to erase the entire thing so if you weren’t writing fast or paying attention you were in trouble.”

Like many MSE students before and after him, Phil really enjoyed the small class sizes offered by the department and the ability that gave him to interact with professors, many of which always had stories to tell about working on the Manhattan Project or some other interesting industry experience. This really helped to show him metallurgical engineering in action. The combination of working at Ames Lab, taking advantage of the MS/BS program, participating in small class sizes, and interacting with professors gave Phil the education and skills necessary for someone who would eventually work in the field of “rocket science.”

Phil Krotz
Phil Krotz (back row, middle) with his family.