The seven newest members of the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame were inducted at a ceremony held Oct. 2 during Reunion & Homecoming weekend, bringing total membership in the hall to 79. The induction ceremony took place immediately following President Shirley Ann Jackson’s State of the Institute Address, held in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center Theater.
“The Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame is a relatively recent innovation at Rensselaer, its inaugural class dating just back to 1998,” said President Jackson in her remarks. “However, it is an important development. As we approach the 200th anniversary of our founding in 2024, we want to ensure that our history resides, not merely in books and in library archives—but also in the consciousness and aspirations of the entire Rensselaer family.”
The inductees who attended—lighting designer William M. Klages ’47, and MRI pioneers John Schenck ’61 and E. Trifon Laskaris ’74—gave brief remarks following their induction, at which they were presented glass replicas of the etched windows commemorating their accomplishments that line Thomsen Hall in the Darrin Communications Center. Carolyn Gurley Estey, great-granddaughter of Lewis E. Gurley, accepted the award for the Gurley brothers, who produced scientific instruments in the 19th century, and Lynn Noble, daughter of David L. Noble ’40, inventor of the floppy disk, who died in 2004, accepted her father’s award. Science of light pioneer Stephen E. Harris ’59 was unable to attend.
“Today, we celebrate the achievements of all inductees into the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame, some of the brightest minds who have ever attended Rensselaer,” said Jeff Schanz, assistant vice president for alumni relations and executive director of the Rensselaer Alumni Association, who presented the candidates to President Jackson for induction. “Their achievements in engineering, science, and the arts have truly changed the world.”
Class of 1839 (1821-1887)
Lewis E. Gurley
Class of 1845 (1826-1897)
Manufacturers of Scientific Instruments
After working several years as a surveyor, William Gurley joined with his brother Lewis in founding W. & L. E. Gurley, one of the first manufacturers of precision measuring instruments in the U.S. As the country expanded westward, the creation of new states, counties, and townships required surveys and mapping. W. & L. E. Gurley was able to meet the growing demand for surveying equipment and established an unsurpassed reputation for high-quality products. The firm prospered and soon became the largest manufacturer of engineers’ and surveyors’ instruments in the U.S., and grew to international prominence. Gurley supplied instruments to major engineering projects and expeditions, including the Antarctic explorations of Admiral Byrd. During World War II, the company earned high honors from the Army and Navy for achievement in the production of war equipment.
David L. Noble
Class of 1940 (1918-2004)
Inventor of the Floppy Disk
David Noble conceived and led the design and development at IBM of the 8-inch flexible “floppy” disk and associated disk drive mechanism. In 1967, when punched cards were still being used for data entry and software programming, Noble was asked to develop a new way to load microcode into IBM’s mainframe computers. He proposed an entirely new device, an 8-inch-diameter flexible “memory disk.” Besides inventing the device itself, Noble and his team enclosed the disk in a plastic sleeve lined with fabric that removed dust particles from the surface as it rotated, providing an ease of handling and protection that led to widespread acceptance of the floppy disk. The original flexible disk drive introduced by IBM in 1971 launched a major new segment of the computer industry, enabling the personal computer revolution and emergence of an independent software industry. The floppy disk icon became a universal symbol for saving files.
William M. Klages
Class of 1947 (1927- )
Bill Klages is an award-winning lighting designer who has been associated with some of the most outstanding productions in television history. He began his career in theatrical lighting with NBC practically at the network’s inception. After establishing his reputation with live black-and-white television dramas, he lighted landmark shows of early television starring entertainment legends Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, and Perry Como. In the decades that followed, he lighted an array of acclaimed entertainment specials for such luminaries as Barbra Streisand, Bob Hope, and Liza Minnelli, and awards shows including the Emmy Awards, the Grammy Awards, and the Kennedy Center Honors. With more than 300 lighting credits to his name, he has won seven Primetime Emmy Awards and received 23 Emmy nominations. In 2012, Klages was the first lighting designer and only the third designer overall to be inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.
Stephen E. Harris
Class of 1959 (1936- )
Pioneer in the Science of Light
Stephen Harris has been recognized for his pioneering and profoundly influential contributions to the science of light. His groundbreaking research in nonlinear optics set the tone for a career of many firsts. A professor emeritus of electrical engineering and applied physics at Stanford University, Harris is known for his work in the fields of lasers, quantum electronics, nonlinear optics, and atomic physics. Examples of his early contributions include the observation of parametric down conversion, the invention of the tunable acousto-optic filter, and the demonstration of laser induced collisions. His technique for making lasers that could operate without requiring a population inversion led to the first observation of electromagnetically induced transparency and its use for nonlinear optical processes. With his successful demonstration of the slowing of the speed of light, a new field of optics was born. Harris is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
John F. Schenck
Class of 1961 (1939- )
John Schenck was a key member of the research team at General Electric that developed the first clinically viable high-field MRI scanner. An emergency room physician as well as a research scientist, Schenck became the first researcher at General Electric to work full time with magnetic resonance imaging. He served as a principal leader on the team that proposed using a magnet rated at 1.5 tesla, more than five times as high as had previously been used for whole-body human imaging. In 1982 his team produced the first high-field MRI prototype and Schenck, himself, became the subject of the first high-field magnetic resonance brain scan. This high-field strength, along with key scanner components developed by his team, became industry standards for MRI, and the technology has become a vital and widely used innovation now basic to medical practice. Schenck is an authority on MRI safety whose published works have served as a guide to the industry in how it is regulated and managed.
E. Trifon Laskaris
Class of 1974 (1944- )
MRI Technology Innovator
The pioneering contributions of E. Trifon Laskaris to the design and construction of superconducting magnets have had a major impact on magnetic resonance imaging, a technology that has helped revolutionize modern medicine. A chief scientist at GE and a prolific inventor, Laskaris has been awarded more than 200 patents. His groundbreaking work refined and scaled prototype designs for the superconducting magnets that form the core of GE’s MRI systems. Beginning with the 1.5 tesla magnets that became the industry standard for MRI machines, Laskaris developed a succession of increasingly sophisticated, higher and higher field magnets for MRI systems, both open and closed, which led to improved image quality and better diagnosis. In the 1990s, he developed a design for a “double donut” MRI machine that is open vertically, enabling surgeons to image patients during surgery, particularly brain surgery.