Montana State University

MSU faculty member with ties to Montana grocery stores, flour mills publishes energy textbook

October 17, 2012 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Paul Gannon with his new textbook, "Introduction to Energy, Environment and Sustainability." (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN - A fourth generation Montanan who chose academia over the grocery industry has published his first textbook.

Paul Gannon's "Introduction to Energy, Environment and Sustainability" is now part of the core curriculum at Montana State University where Gannon is a faculty member in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. The textbook is also being used in physics classes at Utah State University, general courses at Salt Lake City Community College and chemistry classes at Loyola University New Orleans.

"Dr. Gannon's class and now his new textbook have moved MSU to the educational forefront for energy and sustainability education," said Brett Gunnink, interim dean of MSU's College of Engineering.

"Broad societal understanding of the basic concepts related to energy and sustainability is required if we are going to continue to improve the quality of life for citizens of the United States and the world," Gunnink added.

Gannon was born in Great Falls and largely grew up in Billings. An MSU alumnus, he earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 2002 and his doctoral degree in chemical engineering in 2007. During those years, he also worked in a variety of capacities for Buttrey Food and Drug and Smith's Food and Drug. He was a research assistant professor at MSU and research associate at Arcomac Surface Engineering in Bozeman. He was an undergraduate and post-graduate research fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of 10 U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories. Gannon returned to MSU in 2008 and is now an assistant professor in the same department where he earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees.

He saw the need for a new textbook while filling in as a guest lecturer across campus and later as a faculty member who developed a class that became the core course ECHM 205CS "Energy and Sustainability," Gannon said. Although he shared his research in the new field of fuel cells and incorporated materials from many others, he felt the students still lacked a basic understanding of human-caused climate change and other issues related to energy and the environment.

Thinking his students could do better if they had one textbook, Gannon decided to write the textbook himself. He planned to write an introductory textbook that made science accessible to non-science, non-engineering students. His target audience might be students majoring in such areas as history, art or business and telling themselves that they couldn't succeed in science, Gannon said.

Gannon gave up writing the book, however, after finding the process overwhelming. He eventually returned to it after two publishing companies contacted him on the same morning and expressed their interest in his materials. The companies had evidently scoured university databases, looking for new courses with high enrollment, Gannon said. His course started in the spring of 2009 with a cap of 48 students. It grew to 120 students in the second semester and 180 in the third.

Gannon no longer teaches the course, but Kendall Hunt Publishing Company published his textbook in March. It was a satisfying accomplishment that confirmed his decision to pursue chemical engineering, Gannon said.

He could have gone full-time into the grocery business, but science and engineering were strong interests that allowed him to stay in Montana where he has long and far-reaching ties, Gannon said. His parents, who both grew up in large families, now live in Polson. His father is the youngest of nine children. His mother is the youngest of seven. Around 1900, Gannon's great-great grandfather built flour mills in Harlowton, Lewistown and Joliet. About 30 years later, Gannon's great-grandfather and his brothers helped start Montana Flour Mills, which established mills in Great Falls and Bozeman.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or