Gourdine, Meredith 1929–1998
Meredith Gourdine 1929–1998
Olympian, physicist, engineer,
Many people of varying notoriety excel in specific fields. This is what makes them successful or famous. For Meredith Gourdine, excelling in athletics simply wasn’t enough. After earning a silver medal in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, Gourdine parlayed a wealth of knowledge, teamed with a vast academic background into a noteworthy career. His post-Olympic path would be that of a highly recognized physicist, engineer, holder of nearly thirty U.S. patents (some accounts have the number as high as 70) and the founder of a engineering system that would be an enormous benefit to removing smoke and fog.
Born September 26, 1929 in Newark, New Jersey, Gourdine was raised in Brooklyn, where his father worked as a painter and janitor. Attending Brooklyn Tech High School, he didn’t start running until his senior year. While in high school, Gourdine would work eight hours after school, helping his father with painting jobs. In an article found at www.princeton.edu, Gourdine recalled his father’s advice during those times. “My father said, ‘If you don’t want to be a laborer all your life, stay in school.’ It took.” Being an excellent swimmer, Gourdine earned a swimming scholarship to the University of Michigan. He decided to attend Cornell, where he paid his way through the first two years.
While at Cornell in the early 1950s, the six-foot, 175-pound Gourdine excelled in track and field. He won championship titles in the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America, and another five titles in the Heptagonal Games. In 1952 he led Cornell to a second-place finish in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championships. Gourdine later qualified for the summer Olympics that year. Gourdine finished second in the broad jump event, settling for a silver medal with a leap of 24 feet, 8 1/4 inches. He lost by an inch and a half. In the same article at www.princeton.edu, Gourdine said “I would have rather lost by a foot. I still have nightmares about it.’”
After the Olympics Gourdine worked for four years in the private sector. According to a profile found at inventers.about.com, Gourdine served as a technical staffer at Ramo-Woolridge Corporation for a year before becoming the senior research scientist at Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1958. Two years later he was named lab director at Plasmodyne Corporation and would become chief scientist of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation from 1962 to 1964. Also in 1964 Gourdine was named to the President’s Panel on Energy and ultimately established Gourdine Systems on a $200,000 loan from family and friends. In 1973 he started Energy Innovations in Houston.
Gourdine’s attention to detail and extremely high intelligence would be the foundation for his most notable scientific discoveries in electrogasdynamics. According to a Gourdine profile found at www.mit.edu, his particular field of study is “basically the generation of energy from the motion of gas molecules which have been ionized (electrically charged) under high pressure.” The article also described Gourdine as “one of the first, and remains one of the most respected, scientists in electrogasdynamics.” For Gourdine, suecess
At a Glance …
Born Meredith Charles Gourdine September 26, 1929 in Newark, Nj; died November 20, 1998 in Houston. Survived by wife, Carolina Bailing; one son, Meredith, daughters (from a previous marriage) Teri, Traci, and Toni; five grandchildren.
Education: Bachelor’s of Science, Cornell University, 1953; Ph.D. in Engineering Physics, California Institute of Technology, 1960.
Career: U.S. Naval officer; Ramo-Woolridge Corporation, technical staffer; Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory, senior research scientist; Plasmodyne Corporation, lab director; Curtiss-Wright Corporation, chief scientist; founded Gourdine Systems in Livingston, NJ; founded Energy Innovations in Houston, 1973; holder of more than 30 U.S. patents.
Awards: Olympic silver medal, Broad Jump, Helsinki Olympics, 1952; Guggenheim fellowship, 1960; Ramo-Woolridge fellowship.
came from developing a practical use for a complex scientific procedure.
Gourdine earned patents from 1971 to 1973 for his invention called “Incineraid.” Gourdine established a method to help remove smoke from buildings and also a way to remove fog from airport runways. Those systems created clear air by introducing a negative charge to airborne particles. Those negative charges made the particles electromagnetically charge to the ground, where they would drop and be replaced by fresh air. Gourdine would later earn additional patents related to electrogasdynamics, including applications to circuit breakers, acoustic imaging, air monitors and coating systems. He also created the Focus Flow Heat Sink, which is a method used to cool computer chips.
His impressive work in science and technology earned him respect and praise from his peers. Physicist H. E. Blackwell, in a tribute appearing at www.wellblack.com, spoke highly of Gourdine. “Having had a vague memory of an Ebony article on Dr. Gourdine in the early 70’s, I had been surprised to first run into him at the Johnson Space Center in 1992. I had been more surprised to find that he had lost his sight years before. More surprising was that he had not let blindness deter his creative work. He was filled with energy and ideas for new technology. Some years later when he asked me to assist him with some tasks, I found remarkable the manner in which he was able to carry complex equations in his head and manipulate them with ease.”
Despite his intelligence and fortitude, Gourdine would eventually surrender to illness. He developed diabetes, a disease that would ultimately cause him to not only lose his sight, but one of his legs. According to an obituary appearing at www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com, Gourdine’s ex-wife, June Hubbard, said that at the time of his death, he was undergoing twice-weekly dialysis treatments. He passed away at age 69 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston. The cause of death was listed as complications from multiple strokes. Gourdine had earned more than 30 patents, an Olympic silver medal and the respect and admiration of his peers and family. Like his colleagues, Hubbard was quoted as having high esteem for her former husband. “That man, he never gave up no matter what. When he was losing his eyesight, when he lost feeling in his hands. He just kept on and on despite his disabilities,” she told sportsillustrated.cnn.com.
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