BOZEMAN – Lloyd Berg, Montana State University’s longest-serving professor, has been called many things: Pioneer, visionary, advocate for women and students, family man, encourager, community servant, mentor, outdoorsman. But the hundreds of students he inspired during his 54 years at the university simply called him “Doc.”
Berg, who served as head of MSU’s Department of Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering for 33 years and was involved with the university for another two decades, was inducted into the Montana Professional Engineers Hall of Fame at the annual Montana Engineering Honors banquet held Nov. 2 in Helena.
MSU alumnus Allan McDonald was the keynote speaker at the banquet. McDonald was one of Berg’s students and is known for being the highest-ranking engineer to oppose the launch of the ill-fated space shuttle Challenger, which broke apart just over a minute after it launched from Cape Canaveral in January 1986.
Prior to his speech, McDonald shared a memory about Berg with Berg’s son, John, who attended the banquet.
“Allan told me that at some point he was looking for employment and my father’s words to him were, ‘Allan, if you don’t believe in yourself, don’t expect anyone else to,’” said John Berg, a 1969 MSU graduate who worked as a chemical engineer for the Cenex energy company until his retirement in 2010.
Steve Kujawa, Berg’s former student and an MSU alumnus, nominated Berg for the hall of fame honor, which is awarded annually to a professional engineer who has made an outstanding contribution to the engineering profession and public welfare of Montana.
A chemical engineer from Butte, Kujawa studied under Berg for nine years and three degrees, beginning as an undergraduate work-study student and ending with his doctorate. In his nomination letter, Kujawa wrote that Berg “enabled hundreds of Montana students to have a good career and make a difference.”
“That is probably his greatest accomplishment,” he wrote.
Berg, who died in 2000 at the age of 85, came to MSU – then known as Montana State College -- in 1946 when he was hired to re-establish its chemical engineering department, which had lain dormant for four years, according to a Berg-authored article in the winter 1972 issue of the journal, Chemical Engineering Education. Just two years later, the department would become the first in the Rocky Mountain region to be accredited by the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development.
In his nomination letter, Kujawa listed some of Berg’s many accomplishments from his five decades at MSU that had major impacts in technology, science and industry. Among these was his consultant work for Exxon, Conoco, Husky Oil, Phillips Petroleum, Champion International, Celanese Chemical Co. and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Other achievements included:
In the 1950s, Berg and his graduate students developed the world’s first economical diesel fuel desulfurizer for the Husky Oil Company (now Exxon), which was first demonstrated at the Husky refinery in Billings. The technology had significant environmental benefits, Kujawa wrote.
“The desulfurization technology has had an enormous effect on the air quality of the United States by reducing the amount of sulfur dioxide emitted into the atmosphere from diesel engines,” he wrote. “If you have seen diesel pumps stating that the fuel has less than 15 parts per million of sulfur, Dr. Berg’s research helped start the technology that implemented that federal sulfur standard.”
Also in the 1950s, Berg and his graduate students developed a benzene purification process for Jones and Laughlin Steel Co., and a synthetic coke process for Koal-Krudes. Coke is a high-carbon fuel made from coal with few impurities.
In the 1960s, Berg’s students worked out the catalytic refining of shale oil into a petroleum substitute.
Beginning in the early 1970s, Berg’s efforts concentrated on then President Jimmy Carter’s call to make America energy independent, Kujawa wrote. During this time, Berg partnered with MSU professors and students to research how to manufacture liquid fuels from coal and develop ways to turn thermal and kinetic energy into electricity, a process known as magneto-hydrodynamic energy conversion.
Berg made strides in other ways, too.
In 1972, MSU’s chemical engineering department set national records for its number of female graduates, demonstrating Berg’s early advocacy for women in engineering, said Berg’s daughter, Sally Berg Daer, who recently retired after a 50-year career in education.
“He used to say that the brains of America’s women were the most wasted resource in the United States,” Daer said. “At one time he had more ‘girls’ in chemical engineering than any other university in the U.S., one of those being my sister.”
That sister, Annie Berg Cicale, was one of six female chemical engineering graduates that year and she would go on to earn her master’s. She recalls how her father started recruiting women into the department.
“He had recruited every smart Montana boy that he could get by offering them these scholarships,” Cicale said. “Then he looked around and said, ‘There’s a lot more talent out there – there are girls.’ So, he started recruiting girls.”
Cicale had her father as an instructor during her freshman year. She says that he was a good instructor, but an even better mentor.
“I think the biggest impact he had was how he followed up with every single student,” she said. “He kept a chart in his office of all the interviews that kids had for jobs. He really cared that they all had a job and that good things happened after they graduated.”
Cicale worked for some time in the chemical engineering field before deciding to follow her passion for art, earning a BFA in printmaking and an MFA in graphic design. Cicale now lives in Asheville, North Carolina, and is a well-known artist who teaches hand lettering worldwide.
Charlie, Berg’s oldest son, pursued a variety of interests including music, construction and working in Alaska as a fishing guide before dying of cancer at age 42.
In 1979, Berg stepped down as the chemical engineering department chair to work as faculty and to concentrate on his distillation research.
“If you use plastic, Dr. Berg’s distillation research helped make it,” Kujawa wrote.
In 1984, MSU recognized Berg with its Blue and Gold award for distinguished service to the university and the state of Montana; and in 1989, a conference room in MSU’s Cobleigh Hall was named after him.
In 1990, Berg formed the Brix-Berg company, along with his former student Terry Brix, who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from MSU in 1967. The company would go on to hold 300 patents in the field of organic chemical separation.
And, in 2012, MSU’s College of Engineering awarded its first Lloyd Berg Faculty Mentorship Award to Joseph Seymour, co-director of MSU’s Magnetic Resonance Microscopy laboratory and professor in MSU’s Center for Biofilm Engineering. Gerald Geise, a 1959 MSU graduate, funded the scholarship to recognize excellence in mentoring undergraduate students, to encourage mentoring relationships with undergraduate students and to convey MSU’s high regard for such contributions made by faculty of the academic and research community.
In his nomination letter, Kujawa also shared comments from Jim Blazek, who earned his master’s in chemical engineering at MSU in 1975. Blazek recalled how Berg convinced him to enroll at MSU.
“Doc recruited this cowboy from northeast Montana by corresponding with me in high school and offering a scholarship based on my math test scores,” Blazek wrote, adding that at the time he had no idea what it meant to be a chemical engineer.
“He similarly guided many people, whose backgrounds made chemical engineering a most unlikely career choice, into the profession,” wrote Blazek, who would go on to a 31-year career in petroleum refining. “In doing so, he established an excellent chemical engineering department at an institution whose state demographics made this improbable.”
College of Engineering Dean Brett Gunnink said that although he did not have the honor of knowing Berg personally, he has come to know him through his legacy.
“Lloyd Berg left a lasting impression not just on MSU, but on the state of Montana and beyond, through his many scientific achievements, his promotion of chemical engineering and, most importantly, through his development of some of the industry’s top engineers,” said Gunnink, who attended the banquet. “It is fitting that his contributions are now forever recognized on the wall of MSU's Roberts Hall, the home of the Montana Professional Engineers Hall of Fame.”
For more information about the Montana Society of Engineers and past inductees, visit www.mtengineers.org.
Contact: Doug Brekke (406) 932-5400