Notable Alumni and Faculty

Listing by discipline


Aeronautics and Astronautics

Neil A. Armstrong & Eugene A. Cernan
First and Last Men on the Moon

Armstrong
• BSAE ’55

Cernan
• BSEE ’56

Beginning in 1961, the Apollo program became the cornerstone of America’s venture into space. In 1969, Armstrong commanded Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission, and became the first man to walk on the moon. The success of the mission marked the achievement of a lofty goal, to land men on the moon and return them safely to Earth. Three years later, in 1972, Cernan commanded Apollo 17 and became the last man to walk on the moon. This mission marked the end of the Apollo era.


Roger B. Chaffee & Gus Grissom
Apollo I Pioneers

Chaffee
• BSAAE ’57

Grissom
• BSME ’50

Project Apollo’s goals went well beyond landing Americans on the moon. There was also an interest in establishing the technology to meet other national interests in space and to develop our capability to work in space. On January 27, 1967, Ed White and Purdue alumni Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee were killed in a fire in the Apollo Command Module during a preflight test at Cape Canaveral for the Apollo I mission. As a result of this tragedy, changes were made to the module, making it highly reliable.


Shuttle Astronauts
Space Exploration Through Space Travel

John E. Blaha
• MSAAE ’66

Roy D. Bridges Jr.
• MSAAE ’66

Mark N. Brown
• BSAAE ’73

John H. Casper
• MSAAE ’67

Richard O. Covey
• MSAAE ’69

Andrew J. Feustel
• BS ’89, Solid Earth Sciences
• MS ’91, Geophysics

Guy S. Gardner
• MSAAE ’86

Gregory J. Harbaugh
• BSAAE ’78

Gary E. Payton
• MSAAE ’72

 

Mark Polansky
• BSME ’78, MSME ’78

Michael J. McCulley
• BSMeT ’70, MSMeT ’70

Jerry Ross
• BSME ’70, MSEE ’72

Loren J. Shriver
• MSAAE ’68

Janice E. Voss
• BSES ’75

Charles D. Walker
• BSAAE ’71

Mary Ellen Weber
• BSChE ’84

Donald E. Williams
• BSME ’64

David A. Wolf
• BSEE ’78


NASA has conducted more than 100 successful shuttle missions, many featuring Purdue alumni. Among Boilermaker achievements: Harbaugh was responsible for in-flight operation aboard flight 71, the first shuttle to dock with Mir. Jerry Ross holds the record for the most spacewalk time. Shriver commanded flight 31, which deployed the Hubble Telescope. And Weber was the medical officer and primary contingency spacewalk crew member on flight 70, which delivered a critical NASA communications satellite, TDRS-G, to orbit.


Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Elwood Mead
Hoover Dam's Chief Engineer

  • BS 1882, Agriculture
  • MS 1884, Civil Engineering
  • Honorary doctorate, 1904 (Purdue's first honorary doctorate granted)

Elwood Mead embodied agricultural engineering long before the discipline was formally offered as a major at Purdue in 1945. An irrigation expert, he was named commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation of the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1924 and went on to become the chief engineer of one of the most massive engineering enterprises of all time: Hoover Dam. Containing 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete, Hoover Dam was the world's largest concrete structure when it began operation in 1936. Its reservoir, America's largest man-made reservoir, bears the agricultural engineer's name: Lake Mead. Bigger dams have been built since, but Hoover Dam, as one observer noted, "lit the way to a whole network of huge hydroelectric dams throughout America."


Biomedical Engineering

Leslie Geddes
Bioengineering Pioneer

  • Showalter Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Bioengineering
  • Member, Royal College of Medicine (Britain)
  • Member, National Academy of Engineering

In 1948 Leslie Geddes developed the first steam-sterilizable electrodes made of silver and silver chloride for recording electroencephalograms (EEGs) from the exposed brains of human patients. Joining Purdue's Hillenband Biomedical Engineering Center in the 1970s, Geddes went on to construct, with his research team, the world's largest defibrillator-which delivers an electric pulse to restore the heart's rhythmic pumping-and established the second and third laws of defibrillation.


Chemical Engineering

Robert Forney
Innovator in Fibers

  • BSChE '47, MSChE '48, PhD '50
  • Honorary doctorate, 1981

As a research engineer and, ultimately, executive vice president for DuPont Company, Robert Forney was a leader in the development and manufacture of important new fiber products. In the 1960s, he and a team of DuPont scientists led the production of synthetic fibers, including Dacron polyester, and the development efforts for many polymeric fibers, including many "spun-bonded" fibers. In the 1970s, Forney spearheaded DuPont's early development of the Kevlar fiber, used in bullet-proof clothing, brakes and transmission parts, and a host of other applications.


Paul Oreffice
Corporate Entrepreneur

  • BSChE '49
  • Honorary doctorate, 1976

Paul Oreffice joined Dow International, of the Dow Chemical Company, in 1953. Two years later-at age 28-he was tapped to lead the start-up of a Dow company in Brazil, which became the second-largest chemical concern in the country. By 1978 Oreffice had become president of Dow Chemical. He led the organization's transformation into a global enterprise, overseeing its expansion into Central and South America. He also headed the development of new sectors within Dow, such as the company's joint venture with Eli Lilly-called Dow Elanco-in pharmaceuticals. In 1983 the American Section of the Society of Chemical Industry awarded Oreffice its Chemical Industry Medal for "conspicuous contributions to the growth of the chemical industry."


Michael Ramage
Petrochemicals Innovator

  • BSChE '66, MSChE '69, PhD '71
  • Honorary doctorate, 1996
  • Member, National Academy of Engineering

Joining Mobil Corporation in the 1970s as a chemical engineer, Michael Ramage played a key role in developing the "Mobil Kinetic Reforming Model," the petroleum industry's first reforming model based on fundamental kinetics. Ramage went on to receive two patents on fluidized bed catalytic crackers, and he managed the process research underlying both the Mobil�Saudi Arabia refinery and the Mobil�New Zealand methanol-to-gasoline plant. He successfully reorganized the corporation's upstream technology activities, becoming the only technical leader who has had a major impact on both the upstream and downstream segments of Mobil's technology base. Now president of Mobil Technology Company, Ramage is Mobil Corporation's spokesman for research, engineering, and technology.


Civil Engineering

Stephen Bechtel Jr.
Global Builder

  • BSCE '46
  • Member, National Academy of Engineering
  • Recipient, National Medal of Technology

As chairman emeritus of Bechtel Group-one of the nation's premier engineering and construction firms-Stephen Bechtel has helped build America's industrial base and improve the quality of life for people in the United States and around the world. He led a number of technically complex, one-of-a-kind projects, including the James Bay hydroelectric project-the largest civil engineering project ever undertaken in Canada-and Jubail Industrial City in the Arabian Desert, which includes a complete industrial and residential infrastructure, 16 primary industries, and population of 250,000. His company's work in Kuwait in the early 1990s quelled 650 wellhead fires and helped resurrect Kuwait's oil fields after the Gulf War.


Robert L. Bowen
Catalyst for Construction Research

• BSCE ’62
• Founder, Bowen Engineering Corporation

In 1967 Robert Bowen established the Bowen Engineering Corporation, now Indiana’s leading utility contractor specializing in the construction of wastewater treatment plants, power plants, industrial facilities, and underground utilities. In 2002, Bowen provided a large gift to the Purdue Research Foundation toward a new civil engineering lab for studying large structures. When finished, the Bowen Laboratory will be a premier facility for simulating earthquakes and the effects of high winds on structures, and for testing beams, structural members, and sub-assemblies of bridges and buildings that weigh thousands of pounds.


Charles Ellis
Designer of the Golden Gate Bridge

  • Professor of civil engineering, 1934�46

Although builder Joseph Strauss pushed for the construction of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and is widely credited with its design, Charles Ellis-appointed design engineer for the bridge by Strauss in 1929-actually created the soaring design that has made the bridge a marvel of the 20th century. Ellis conceived and drew up the specifications, oversaw test borings for the bridge towers, and oversaw the surveying and siting. The Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937.


Patricia Galloway
At ASCE’s Pinnacle

• BSCE ’78

Patricia Galloway’s 2002 election as president of the American Society of Civil Engineers marked the first time in ASCE’s 150-year history that a woman has been chosen to serve in this position. As chief executive officer and president of the Nielsen-Wurster Group, an international management consulting firm, she is widely recognized as a leader in civil engineering and construction. Galloway says, “I don’t view my election as a milestone but instead a validation on how far we have come in accepting people for their abilities and skills, strengthening our profession.”


Delon Hampton
ASCE Leader

  • MSCE '58, PhD '61
  • Honorary doctorate, 1994
  • Member, National Academy of Engineering

Delon Hampton has contributed to the practice and profession of civil engineering on many levels: as chairman and CEO of Delon Hampton & Associates-a consulting engineering, design, and construction management services firm; as a participant in university teaching and research; and as the 1999�2000 president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. His career also includes service as a member of the U.S. Trade Advisory Committee on Africa. Says Hampton, "There is a great big wonderful world out there waiting to be conquered by people with drive, imagination, and a belief that through hard work and dedication to one's chosen profession and a desire for service to humanity, one can make a difference."


Gerald Leonards & Fritz Leonhardt
Analyzing the Tower of Pisa

    Leonards
  • MSCE '48, PhD '52
  • Civil engineering professor, 1946�91
    Leonhardt
  • BSCE '33
  • Honorary doctorate, 1980
  • Member, National Academy of Engineering

Gerald Leonards and Fritz Leonhardt, both world-renowned engineers, served on the 14-member Comitato di Consulenza per la Salvaguardia della Torre di Pisa-the international commission formed in 1990 to stabilize the Tower of Pisa. Leonards, a professor emeritus of geotechnical engineering at Purdue, participated in the committee until his death in 1997, contributing expertise in soil mechanics. Leonhardt, a professor emeritus of structural engineering at Germany's University of Stuttgart-and an acclaimed builder of high-rise towers-also served until 1997, contributing expertise in structures.


David Robert Lewis
Purdue's First Black Engineering Graduate

  • BSCE 1894
  • Member of the Carlyle Society, a Purdue literary society

Before David Robert Lewis's birth, his father, Richard, signed a petition so that "colored" children could attend school in Greensburg, Indiana. His son, who went by D. Robert, became Greensburg High School's first black graduate and eventually enrolled at Purdue in 1886 at the age of 25. Only nine African-Americans graduated from Indiana colleges before the 1900s, and Lewis was among the nation's first black engineering graduates. He went on to teach mechanical drawing at Virginia's Hampton Institute for 12 years, before settling into a successful career as a real estate broker in Pittsburgh.


Elwood Mead
Hoover Dam's Chief Engineer

  • BS 1882, Agriculture
  • MS 1884, Civil Engineering
  • Honorary doctorate, 1904 (Purdue's first honorary doctorate granted)

Elwood Mead embodied agricultural engineering long before the discipline was formally offered as a major at Purdue in 1945. An irrigation expert, he was named commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation of the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1924 and went on to become the chief engineer of the most massive engineering enterprises of all time: Hoover Dam. Containing 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete, Hoover Dam was the world's largest concrete structure when it began operation in 1936. Its reservoir, America's largest man-made reservoir, bears the agricultural engineer's name: Lake Mead. Bigger dams have been built since, but Hoover Dam, as one observer noted, "lit the way to a whole network of huge hydroelectric dams throughout America."


Electrical and Computer Engineering

Robert Batts
Inventor of Police Radio

  • Electrical engineering student, 1920s

In 1928 a Purdue undergraduate in electrical engineering, Robert Batts, built a radio system for use in the patrol cars of the Detroit police department. The police department already had a transmitter. Batts created the receiver: a three-stage, tuned-radiofrequency superheterodyne with a two-stage audio amplifier. The receiver operated from an external storage battery on the car's running board and B and C batteries under the floorboards. The antenna was woven into the car's fabric roof. The first radio-equipped patrol car-#5, a Lincoln cruiser-received its first transmission on April 7, 1928. Batts' success with one-way transmission attracted national attention, and by 1933, two-way police radios had appeared.


Michael J. Birck
Contributing to the Future of Nanotechnology

• BSEE ’60
• Founder, Chairman, and CEO, Tellabs

In 1975, Michael Birck founded Tellabs, Inc., which began as a manufacturer of voice frequency modules. Today, Tellabs provides innovative bandwidth solutions, is the leading provider of cable telephony solutions in Europe, and the world’s leading provider of voice-quality enhancement solutions. Purdue’s Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex is named in recognition of this alumnus’s donation toward improvements, and he provided a gift towards Purdue’s new aquatics center. In 2001, Birck was the key contributor for Purdue’s new nanotechnology center. When completed, the Birck Nanotechnology Center will be among the best of its kind for the study of the ultrasmall.


Reginald Fessenden
The Father of Radio Broadcasting

  • First to transmit the human voice by wireless telephony (radio)
  • Purdue's first professor of electrical engineering

Reginald Fessenden was a stellar figure in the history of electrical engineering in the 20th century. He spent just one year at Purdue (1892-93), but he initiated experiments here that led directly to the first wireless transmission, on December 23, 1900, of the human voice-radio as we know it today. On Christmas Eve six years later, Fessenden made the first extended transmission of voice and music from Brant Rock, Massachusetts, astonishing radio operators on ships in the Atlantic, who heard the brilliant inventor sing "O Holy Night" while accompanying himself on the violin. Fessenden had demonstrated that the human voice could be transmitted over a great distance without wires. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, radio would become indispensable.


King-sun Fu
Pioneer in Pattern Recognition

  • Professor of Electrical Engineering, 1960�85
  • Founding Director, NSF Research Center on Intelligent Manufacturing Systems
  • Director, Advanced Automation Research Laboratories
  • Member, National Academy of Engineering
  • Member, Academia Sinica

Drawing on linguistics, statistics and probability, and a number of other disciplines, King-sun Fu gained worldwide renown for his theory of syntactic pattern recognition, which he applied to a host of subjects: satellite evaluation of crops, the representation and classification of fingerprint patterns, IC chip inspection, and medical image processing. In 1975 Purdue appointed Fu the Goss Distinguished Professor of Engineering in recognition of his outstanding contributions.


Roscoe George
Inventor of the All-Electronic TV Receiver

  • BSEE '22, MSEE '27
  • Director of Purdue's first high-voltage lab

With colleague Howard Heim, Roscoe George entered into a contract in 1929 with the Grigsby-Grunow Radio Company to develop an all-electronic television receiver. The pair worked on the project in Rooms 20 and 22 of Purdue's EE Building and in 1931 succeeded at their job. The original mechanical TV system required synchronization between a rotating disk in the receiver and a transmitting disk-a difficult task. George and Heim's creation of an all-electronic receiver eliminated the need for the rotating disk in the receiver. Their invention is on exhibit at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.


Frank Greene Jr.
IT Venture Capitalist

  • MSEE '62
  • Outstanding Electrical Engineer, 1999 (Purdue)

Frank Greene Jr. has taught electrical engineering and computer science, served as assistant chairman of Stanford University's Department of Electrical Engineering, and founded three successful businesses. In 1971 he established Technology Development Corporation, a computer software and technical services company recognized by Black Enterprise as a top100 business. His second company, ZeroOne Systems, successfully established the facility for the first Cray supercomputer installation at NASA (Ames Research Center). Greene organized New Vista Capital in 1993 and is a general partner in the firm, which provides long-term capital and management support to early-stage information-technology companies.


Edward Purcell
Nobel Laureate for Nuclear Magnetism

  • BSEE '33

In 1952 Edward Purcell won the Nobel Prize in physics, with Felix Bloch, for finding a way to detect the extremely weak magnetism of the atomic nucleus. Purcell demonstrated that, surrounded by a strong magnetic field, spinning nuclear particles would come into alignment. He then used microwaves to determine the particles' resonant frequency and magnetism. Purcell's work has contributed greatly to the study of molecular structures and the measurement of magnetic fields. Magnetic resonance imaging-or MRI, the tool for medical diagnostics-relies on principles of nuclear magnetic resonance, the phenomenon Purcell was able to measure. During his career, Purcell served as science advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.


David Ross
Inventor & Industrialist

  • BSME 1893

"There's scarcely a thing we do that can't be done better," David Ross once said. His life demonstrated the truth of that maxim. Ross graduated from Purdue in 1893. He had focused on electrical engineering coursework, but because Purdue did not grant EE degrees at that time, his degree was in mechanical engineering. In 1905 he earned the first three of his eventual 88 patents: one for a differential gear mechanism, one for a gear-shifting device, and one for a rear-axle differential. He went on to develop a number of patentable steering gears, and the company he formed-Ross Gear and Tool Company (now part of TRW Commercial Steering)-made him a wealthy man. Ross's ingenuity extended beyond the mechanics of the automobile. Noting how a cat's eyes shine before automobile headlights, he created "traffic eyes"-reflective highway markers. Ross assigned the rights to this invention (and many others) to Purdue. He distinguished himself, as historian H. B. Knoll observed, as "a Ben Franklin type: inventive, fearless, open-minded, and appreciative of human values."


Industrial Engineering

Mike Eskew
Synchronizing Global Commerce

• BSIE ’72

As chairman and CEO of UPS, Mike Eskew oversees the world’s largest packaging and delivery service and is spearheading its development of new lines of business that complement the existing operation. New capabilities to help synchronize the movement of information, goods, and funds include multi-modal transportation services, international trade management, supply chain consulting and financial services. In 2003, Eskew was appointed to the President’s Export Council, the premier national advisory committee on international trade.


Lillian Gilbreth
First Lady of Engineering

  • Professor, Schools of Engineering, 1935�48
  • Member, National Academy of Engineering

In the first decades of the 20th century, Lillian Gilbreth and her husband, Frank, pioneered motion studies and time management, seeking to make factory work and other repetitive tasks-everything from bricklaying to typewriting-more productive, more economical, and more pleasant for the worker. The Gilbreths' work eventually evolved into a segment of what is now called industrial engineering. Known as the "first lady of engineering," Dr. Gilbreth received the Herbert Hoover Medal for Distinguished Public Service and, in 1965, became the first woman inducted into the National Academy of Engineering.


Rocky Rhodes
Co-Founder of Silicon Graphics

  • BSIE '75, MSIE '78

Rocky Rhodes joined a team led by Jim Clark that, in 1982, founded Silicon Graphics. Now the leading manufacturer of high-end visual computing systems, Silicon Graphics creates systems-ranging from desktop workstations and servers to the most powerful supercomputers in the world-that deliver advanced computing and 3-D visualization capabilities to scientific, engineering and creative professionals. Rhodes co-authored IRIS Showcase, a presentation package that incorporates 3-D graphics, full-color images, text, audio, and video, and he led the investigation that generated the original concepts for the Indigo personal workstation, the industry's first under-$10,000 3-D interactive graphics workstation that supports digital media.


Interdisciplinary Engineering

Sue Hudson Abreu
Renowned for Nuclear Medicine

  • BSE ’78
  • President, American College of Nuclear Physicians, 2001-02

Sue Hudson Abreu, M.D., FACNP, Colonel (retired) U.S. Army, is an engineer and physician who now consults for corporations and healthcare organizations, specializing in nuclear medicine product development and professional services as well as organizational management. In 2002, she retired from the U.S. Army Medical Corps after rising to the position of nuclear medicine consultant to the Army Surgeon General. Abreu volunteers as team physician for the U.S. Parachute Team (Style and Accuracy) and also serves as team manager. She has over 230 skydives.


Gregory Ayers
Inventive Heart Healer

  • BSIDE '85, PhD BME '89
  • Holder of 14 heart-related patents

As vice president of InControl in the late 1990s, Gregory Ayers was part of the first team to design, develop, manufacture, and place (within patients) an implantable device to treat atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common heart rhythm disorder. AF affects the heart's upper chambers, resulting in a quivering of the atria, as opposed to the regular, rhythmic contractions of a healthy heart. Approved in Europe and awaiting approval from the FDA in the U.S., the implanted Metrix allows AF patients to "cardiovert" themselves. The device is programmed to restore the fluttering heart to normal rhythm through internal shocks. Pioneer patients have benefited from fewer medications and hospital visits as well as a renewed richness to life.


Paul Cloyd
Preserving History

• BSIDE ‘76
• Licensed architect

As project manager of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Relocation Project, Paul Cloyd oversaw the successful three-week, 2,900-foot journey inland of America’s oldest brick lighthouse in 1999. Standing 200 feet tall, the lighthouse was threatened by the advancing waters of the Atlantic Ocean and eroding shoreline. Cloyd’s career with the National Park Service has taken him from projects in an 1890s gold-rush boomtown to a consulting stint in central Asia looking at centuries-old Buddhist temples carved into live rock.


David R. Schwind
Acoustical Consultant

• BSIDE ‘74
• Purdue’s first Acoustical Engineer

David Schwind has led acoustical consulting teams for the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Rock and Roll History Museum in Cleveland, and broadcast centers for Fox Network in Los Angeles. Consulting in acoustics since 1975, he has also worked on the remodeling of the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Dolby Labs screening rooms, and Pixar’s new screening theaters. He was elected Fellow by the Audio Engineering Society in 1995.


Materials Engineering

Reinhardt Schuhmann
A Founder of Modern Metallurgy

  • Professor of Metallurgical Engineering, 1954�80
  • Founding Head, School of Materials Engineering
  • Member, National Academy of Engineering

Reinhardt Schuhmann was a founding father of contemporary metallurgy and materials studies-one of the first academics to apply scientific theory to the practice of engineering. He revolutionized the materials area in the 1950s by establishing the thermodynamics foundations for high-temperature metal processing, especially in copper and lead smelting. His patents with Paul Queneau led to some of the most important and significant changes in the extractive metallurgy field in the past century.


Mechanical Engineering

Donovan Berlin
Master Designer

  • BSME '21
  • Honorary doctorate, 1953

This gifted engineer helped develop a number of important airplanes over the first half of the 20th century: the Northrop Alpha, the world's first successful all-metal, stressed-skin aircraft; the Northrop Gamma; and Curtiss-Wright's P-36 (or Hawk 75) and P-40. When World War II broke out, the P-36 and P-40 series that Donovan Berlin designed constituted the only battle-ready fighters available in the United States. The most celebrated P-40s were those supplied to the American Volunteer Group in China, popularly known as the "Flying Tigers." Because of the plane's excellent performance, the Flying Tigers made Berlin an honorary member.


Ray Cohen
Breakthrough Researcher

  • BSME '47, MSME '50, PhD '55
  • Professor of Mechanical Engineering, 1947-present

In the 1950s and '60s, working at the Herrick Laboratories of Purdue's School of Mechanical Engineering, Ray Cohen applied instrumentation and computer-simulation techniques developed for the aerospace industry to valves planned for use in new refrigeration compressors. The project marked the first application of analytical techniques to compressor design-and it became the first major success of Herrick Labs, now an internationally recognized research center for HVAC&R systems, noise and vibration control, and mechatronics. Cohen went on to be named director of the labs and the Herrick Professor of Mechanical Engineering.


W.F.M. Goss
The Father of Purdue Engineering

  • Creator of the world's first locomotive testing lab
  • A founder of the Schools of Engineering
  • Professor of experimental engineering
  • Dean of the Schools of Engineering, 1900�07

Professor W.F.M. Goss earned a reputation for audacity in 1891 by bringing the 85,000-pound test locomotive Schenectady-the original "Boilermaker Special"-to Purdue's campus and setting up the world's first locomotive testing lab. Other test locomotives succeeded the Schenectady into the 20th century. Impartial data were made available to the railroad companies, contributing immensely to the safety and efficiency of American railroads. The last commercial locomotive test was run at Purdue in 1922.


Amy Ross
Space Suit Engineer

• BSME ’94
• MSME ’96

As a space suit engineer for NASA, Amy Ross, the daughter of Jerry Ross, designed the gloves that made her father’s hands-on work possible in the 1998 Endeavour mission. Taking a full 18 months to build, these gloves weigh about three pounds apiece and can withstand temperatures from -250°F to 250°F. Amy Ross currently works on advanced space suit technology for future long-duration and terrestrial missions.


David Ross
Inventor & Industrialist

  • BSME 1893

"There's scarcely a thing we do that can't be done better," David Ross once said. His life demonstrated the truth of that maxim. Ross graduated from Purdue in 1893. He had focused on electrical engineering coursework, but because Purdue did not grant EE degrees at that time, his degree was in mechanical engineering. In 1905 he earned the first three of his eventual 88 patents: one for a differential gear mechanism, one for a gear-shifting device, and one for a rear-axle differential. He went on to develop a number of patentable steering gears, and the company he formed-Ross Gear and Tool Company (now part of TRW Commercial Steering)-made him a wealthy man. Ross's ingenuity extended beyond the mechanics of the automobile. Noting how a cat's eyes shine before automobile headlights, he created "traffic eyes"-reflective highway markers. Ross assigned the rights to this invention (and many others) to Purdue. He distinguished himself, as historian H. B. Knoll observed, as "a Ben Franklin type: inventive, fearless, open-minded, and appreciative of human values."