I Am Wilshire: Larry Harrington

by | Jul 5, 2024 | I Am Wilshire

Hometown: Plano
Present City: Plano
Education: Plano High School; B.S., Baylor 
University; Ph.D., chemistry, U.T.–Austin
Profession: Research chemist

Tell us about your family.

I am an only child and never married.

How about your work or volunteer life?

I’ve done industrial research in Texas, North Carolina and Massachusetts and am a life member of the Sierra Club. While in North Carolina, I often spent weekends in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A favorite trail, five miles each way, climbs 3,000 feet to the top of Mount Le Conte, where a rustic lodge offers meals and a room for the night.

My first research employment was with Exxon. At that time, the Baytown refinery, as a new and separate venture, was making polypropylene (PP) and striving to produce the best quality product, as determined by structural regularity. Regular alignment is characteristic of a superior product and has a higher melting temperature. I devised an apparatus to separate the product into fractions, each having a different and distinct melting temperature. To complicate matters, we were producing a “copolymer,” a molecule combining segments of polypropylene with segments of polyethylene (PE). One of our competitors was marketing such a copolymer, and I was keen to examine it with my device. Huge surprise: one of the fractions was essentially pure polyethylene, as you’d get from a simple mixture of PE and PP. This was potentially embarrassing for Exxon. I was ordered to stop using my apparatus, and someone from Exxon in New Jersey announced there was nothing new about my device. Meanwhile, I had presented my work at a company meeting and gained wide approval. Just days before my departure (they dismembered the Baytown research department) they assigned a coworker to spend a day with me. His assignment was to learn how to use my apparatus!

Any favorite hobbies?

Physical fitness. I also read serious public affairs media bearing on the health of our democracy, convert the articles to Word docs and email them weekly to an interested group.

What brought you to Wilshire and when?

I found Wilshire in 1991 after a move from Austin.

Where are you engaged at Wilshire? 

Compass Class.

What’s something interesting most people would not know about you? 

I hold a pilot’s license. At age 72 I was part of a U.S. Masters Swimming team and won second place! I quietly celebrated all the way home from San Antonio.