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Love of Rockets

Author: William Meiners
Magazine Section: Always
College or School: CoE
Article Type: Article
Aeronautics and Astronautics alumnus is still flying high.

As a kid, Terry Murphy (BSAAE ’80) was enamored with astronomy, Carl Sagan, and spaceflight. He sent many model rockets soaring through the skies of his Hammond hometown. Once, he and his 12-year-old buddies tracked a wind-gusted rocket to a downtown department store where they feared they would find it smoldering atop the roof.

Murphy survived that rocket mishap, attended Purdue, and realized his high-flying dreams. He moved to California and worked on the Space Shuttle’s main engine for Rocketdyne.

Later, he spun off a company from Rocketdyne called SolarReserve that revolutionized solar energy. In a 2013 homecoming of sorts, he took the helm at the Hammond Group, a company on the forefront of improving lead-acid battery performance, as this energy storage technology features an incredible 99 percent recycling rate.

Systems Navigator

Even knowing exactly what he wanted to do, Murphy stayed open to possibilities. “You get innovation when you bring people from different disciplines into a new arena,” he says. “My first 30 years were all rocket engines and deep space power systems, and I loved every minute of it. Over the last 10 years, I’ve applied everything I learned in ways I didn’t first think related or possible.”

The interdisciplinary structure is reflective of his own career path. “Probably the best thing I learned at Purdue was systems thinking,” Murphy says.

Lead Leaders

Moving from rocket engines, to solar power, to sustainable energy storage systems seems like a natural progression for Murphy who was asked by shareholders to set the Hammond Group on the path to energy storage technology. “Lead is a closed loop system with nearly a 100 percent recycle rate,” he says. “So the sustainability aspect of it really intrigued me, as most other battery technologies have zero recyclability. We’re changing how lead batteries perform, with a focus on increasing recycle rates and charge acceptance. Essentially we’re making them a lot more capable.”

He believes that these technical advancements will facilitate more terrestrial and automotive applications that rely on lead batteries, which are inexpensive. And, aided by Purdue research, Hammond Group is redefining the entire oxidation process of powdered metallurgy.

Murphy’s connection to his hometown and his alma mater made the decision to leave the West Coast easier. Through sponsored internships and funded research at Purdue, Murphy has both paid his success forward and helped fuel powdered metallurgy research at Zucrow Labs.

He views his philanthropy as a “there, but for the grace of God” philosophy. “School was very affordable for me with tuition maybe $400 a semester,” he says. “Now you have people graduating with $100,000 debt. No new graduate should be in that much debt. Mitch Daniels may be one of only a few college administrators actually trying to address the cost of higher education, but I think we all need to do our part to help the next generation of Purdue grads.”

By sponsoring Engineering students, Murphy hopes to be inspiring future high climbers.