Larry Ybarrondo

by Larry Ybarrondo

Hello Dan and whoever else may be on distribution: Thank you for the update and the publications list. At the moment, I don’t have access to my ‘Library’ on NRTS (National Reactor Testing Station) publications. However, I have to believe that ‘somewhere on this planet’ the publications from the NRTS still exist in for example, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) document files. I suspect such files from the AEC would be available through the current Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the Department of Energy. Which agency probably depends how the files were divided when those two agencies Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission were formed from the old AEC. I bet the library at each of these agencies could be helpful in locating the original AEC files.

It might be useful to contact the library at the INL and ask them to help in locating such files.

It also might be of interest for our meeting for various ‘volunteers’ to describe how they got to the National Reactor Testing Station, also known as, Idaho National Engineering Laboratory now.

So, my good friend Dan, Let me volunteer my story.


I was a newly minted Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech where I also served as an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering for a few years. The politics in academia did not match my more action-oriented style. I had an offer from a previous employer, Borg-Warner to return to work to work at their Corporate Research Lab in Des Plaines, Ill. (suburb of Chicago, Ill.).

Some additional background information is needed here. The Borg-Warner Corporate Research Center for Borg-Warner Corp. had purchased my Masters thesis in Thermoelectricity from Northwestern University for $50,000.00 (yes, that is fifty-thousand USA Green-Back Dollars !). In a fit of generosity, Northwestern awarded my, then, M.S advisor and soon to be, Ph. D. advisor, $500.00 (yes, five hundred dollars). He in another fit of generosity gave me $50.00 (fifty dollars). My advisor had the initial thesis idea. So, I was OK with his share. Nothing further needs to be said about such University ‘generosity’ and how to encourage research. But, as a poor student, $50.00 was better than a ‘kick in the ass’.

My advisor left Northwestern for Georgia Tech shortly after the ‘generosity’ described above. Several years later in 1964, I was a newly minted Ph.D. in ME at Georgia Tech. Guess what !! I got a call from Borg-Warner Corp. Research Center offering me a job at a very attractive salary and benefits. I accepted.

When I got to work on my first day at Borg-Warner, first thing in the morning, I found myself in a meeting with several Borg-Warner Corporate lawyers wanting me to sign away any rights to my Ph.D. dissertation at Georgia Tech !! Borg-Warner had purchased rights to MY dissertation from Georgia Tech without my knowledge. I said I needed to think about it and consult with an independent lawyer about my rights. They were not happy !!

It turns out Borg-Warner used the technology from my dissertation on the Sidewinder Heat-Seeking Missile in a contract that they had acquired with the US Government. They put the heat-sensitive detector in a vacuum tube on a two stage thermoelectric device in a vaccum tube (which substantially increased its heat seeking capability). I had helped develop that technology before I left Northwestern and part-time work at the Borg-Warner Corporate Research Center. My friends at Borg-Warner told me the cooled sensor was so sensitive it ‘could put a cigarette out at 5 miles’ !! I was pleased about helping my country but did not appreciate the deception in hiring me to protect a companies patent position that was ONLY MY IDEA.

One month later, I had answered an ad in a Chicago newspaper to ‘live in the heart of America’s recreation Land’ in Idaho. I called the number in the ad. They interviewed me on the phone and said. There will be a ticket for you at United Airlines tomorrow. I had to look up where Idaho was on the map !! The rest is history you know.

I had a very good experience at what came to be the Idaho National Laboratory. We, you and many others, did a lot of great things at INL in the field of reactor safety. Our research work and the reactor safety principles that we pioneered and helped develop are used all over the world. I have had foreign folks that worked at INL tell me that one cannot license a nuclear power plant in the Western world without using the principles and computer codes of reactor safety developed at the INL.

I believe that is a proud legacy for all the folks at INL that worked so hard and creatively on reactor safety computer code development and all the associated experiment instrument development and were so dedicated and very inventive with things like: first-of-a-kind instruments like gamma-densitometer systems, optical sensors that recorded actual transient events starting at about some 500 + F degrees and 2000 psia, etc. It was a great privilege for me to work with so many brilliant and dedicated scientists and engineers and supportive staff.

Dan, I made many wonderful and talented, lifelong friends, like you, in Idaho Falls. I raised my family in Idaho Falls and buried several members of my immediate family there in the New Sweden Cemetary: father, mother, grandmother who helped raise me while my mother worked in a factory during the 2nd World War years; first wife of 33 years who died from breast cancer after a horrific 4 year struggle; my nine year-son who died with my best friend Wayne Creek in Grand Teton National Park (I saved my friend’s son but could not save my own or my friend); my older brother (Korean war vet who never recovered from his war wounds}; and, I started my company, SCIENTECH there. Now, I am happily retired. As William Shakespeare said “All is well that ends well”

With kind regards, larry

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