President Barack Obama has named Harry Coover ’41, P’66, a recipient of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. He is among only three individuals and one team to receive the Medal this year. This is one of the two highest honors bestowed by the United States government on scientists, engineers, and inventors. Among Coover’s many accomplishments is the invention of Super Glue. The recipients will receive their awards at a White House ceremony later this year.
“The extraordinary accomplishments of these scientists, engineers, and inventors are a testament to American industry and ingenuity,” said Obama. “Their achievements have redrawn the frontiers of human knowledge while enhancing American prosperity, and it is my tremendous pleasure to honor them for their important contributions.”
The National Medal of Technology and Innovation is an outgrowth of a 1980 statute and is administered for the White House by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The award recognizes those who have made lasting contributions to America’s competitiveness and quality of life and have helped strengthen the Nation’s technological workforce. Nominees are selected by a distinguished independent committee representing both the private and public sectors.
Coover’s invention of Super Glue made a permanent impact on American society, with industrial, household and medical uses. Synthetic glues, dating as far back as 1750, were made of rubber, animal bones, starch, or milk protein. But through steady persistence, Coover discovered a unique adhesive while supervising a group of Kodak chemists investigating heat resistant polymers for jet-plane canopies. Super Glue, made from cyanoacrylate monomers, required neither heat nor pressure to bond, and the super-product hit the market in 1958. That same year, Coover appeared on TV’s “I’ve Got a Secret,” where he hoisted host Garry Moore off the floor with a single drop.
He was the first to recognize and patent cyanoacrylates as human tissue adhesives, used in many sutureless surgeries such as the rejoining of veins, arteries, and intestines, ophthalmic surgeries, dental surgeries, uncontrollable bleeding, and the repair of soft organs. Coover’s adhesive was first used for medical purposes during the Vietnam War to temporarily patch the internal organs of badly injured soldiers until conventional surgery could be performed. Since the 1970s, tissue adhesives have been used for a variety of surgical applications including middle ear surgery, bone and cartilage grafts, repair of cerebrospinal fluid leaks, and skin closure.
A recipient of the Southern Chemist Man of the Year Award for his outstanding accomplishment in individual innovation and creativity, Coover also holds the Earle B. Barnes Award for Leadership in Chemical Research Management and the Maurice Holland Award. He is a medalist for the Industrial Research Institute, receiving their achievement award in 1999. He has been featured on television and in numerous journals. In 2004, Coover was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, where he joins the ranks of such inventors as Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
At a January, 2010, ceremony at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va., Jared Weeden ’91, director of Alumni Relations at HWS, conferred upon Coover the Medal of Excellence, which is awarded to an alumnus who, by reason of outstanding accomplishments in his particular business, profession or community service, has brought honor and distinction to his alma mater.
Coover received his B.S. in science in 1941 before earning his M.S. and Ph.D. from Cornell University. He worked for Eastman Kodak for 40 years, during which time he wrote 460 patents and 60 papers. He currently resides in Kingsport, Tenn., and has three children, H. Wesley III ’66, Stephen, and Melinda Coover Paul.
The White House has posted a video of the awards presentation online.