An uphill battle

Portland State visiting research professor George Totten’s knows a lot about metals.

Portland State visiting research professor George Totten’s knows a lot about metals.

As an expert of studies involved with metallurgy (the science and technology of metals), Totten has authored, co-authored and edited close to 500 publications about his field, has traveled around the world and is president of his own company, G.E. Totten & Associates LLC. His expertise in the field of science is internationally recognized.

Despite all his success, Totten failed both chemistry and algebra in high school.

In 1963, the year of Totten’s high school graduation, he joined the army. He was stationed in Saigon in a non-combat role in 1964. During his time in Saigon, Totten decided he wanted to try studying chemistry again.

“I had this erroneous thought,” Totten said. “I didn’t want to clean pig pens like I did growing up,” he said. Instead, he wanted a white-collar job where the work would be easier.

“My reasoning was false,” Totten said. “I probably work harder now than I would’ve in manual labor, but its more interesting.”

Best known for his research in quenching (the rapid cooling of a metal object from a liquid state) and tribology (the study of friction, wear and lubrication of surfaces such as bearings or gears in relative motion), Totten has been a visiting research professor at Portland State for the past three years.

He is the man to speak to about heating metals, said Valery Rudnev, director of science and technology at Inductoheat, Inc., an induction heating manufacturing company.

This year, Totten was the recipient of the George H. Bodeen Heat Treating Award.

Totten enrolled in the pre-tech program at Broome Technical Community College in New York in 1966, after returning from his tour in Vietnam. However, Totten said he didn’t know how to study and made poor grades.

Following the birth of his daughter, Stephanie, Totten enrolled in the community college’s chemical technology program. Totten said that having to work through school and take care of his daughter, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, presented challenges.

“Typically I would be sitting on a stairwell in a hospital studying while surgery was performed on her,” said Totten, who attributes his discipline to excel to his time serving in the military.

Totten received an Associate’s in Applied Sciences degree from the community college in 1970 before receiving Bachelor of Sciences and Master of Science degrees from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey in 1974 and 1978. He received a Ph.D. from New York University in 1989.

At PSU, Totten develops project proposals to get research funding, said PSU professor Victor Li. Li said Totten has helped the program write four grants, but none earned any money.

“George has been disappointed with our lack of progress,” Li said.

In addition to his work as a visiting research professor in the department of engineering at PSU, Totten is currently a visiting professor at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil and is considering pursuing a law degree or getting a MBA.

“Quitting is never an option,” Totten said.