Dr. Delbert Day, Curators’ Professor emeritus of ceramic engineering at UMR whose work with glass has resulted in a variety of inventions — from "glasphalt" for roads to an innovative approach to fight liver cancer using microscopic, irradiated glass beads — has been elected into the National Academy of Engineering, the NAE announced Friday, Feb. 13.
Election into the NAE is one of the highest professional distinctions in the field of engineering. Academy membership honors those who have made "important contributions to engineering theory and practice, including significant contributions to the literature of engineering theory and practice," and those who have demonstrated accomplishment in "the pioneering of new fields of engineering, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education."
Day is the first member of the UMR faculty to receive the award. A 1958 graduate of the university, he is the ninth UMR graduate to be elected into the academy. The others are David E. Crow, ME’66; Sidney J. Green, ME’59; Gene H. Haertling, CerE’54; Robert C. Hansen, EE’49; George E. Mueller, EE’39; George Stegemeier, PetE’52, Richard Stegemeier, PetE’50, and Larry F. Thompson, PhD Chem’70.
"In the more than two decades since beginning his work with glass beads to treat liver cancer, Delbert Day has become recognized internationally as a pioneer in the emerging field of biomaterials," says UMR Chancellor Gary Thomas. "His election into the National Academy of Engineering is a well-deserved recognition of one of our most eminent researchers and scholars."
"This recognition by the National Academy of Engineering is the capstone for an absolutely stellar career," says Dr. Richard Brow, chair of the ceramic engineering department at UMR. "It acknowledges Delbert’s uncanny ability to turn interesting scientific observations into practical solutions for a wide range of engineering problems."
"It is a great pleasure to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering," Day says. "I’m proud of the recognition which it brings to the dedicated faculty at the University of Missouri-Rolla in particular and to the University of Missouri in general. I’ve had an exciting career at UMR and look forward to when more UMR faculty are recognized by NAE."
An expert in developing specialty glasses, Day is best known for co-inventing radioactive glass microspheres, now marketed under the brand name TheraSphere, which are used commercially in the United States and Canada to treat patients with liver cancer. The treatment consists of injecting millions of the tiny beads — each one about half the thickness of a human hair — into the main artery supplying blood to the liver. The beads then deliver localized radiation to malignant cells without harming healthy tissue.
The glass beads are made from a special aluminosilicate glass that contains yttrium oxide, a rare-earth element. Once irradiated, the beads bombard malignant cells within the liver for three to four weeks.
Day and co-inventor Gary J. Ehrhardt of the University of Missouri-Columbia started their research on the glass beads in 1982 and received their first patent for the beads in 1988. TheraSphere was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States in February 2000.
Day continues his work with specialty glasses, discovering new uses for tiny glass spheres as vehicles for delivering medicines to the body. He has developed hollow spheres that can be filled with medicines to treat skin problems such as eczema, and a method to mix glass beads with a polymer to inject into joints of sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis.
A member of the UMR faculty since 1961, Day’s research expertise with glass extends beyond biomaterials and medicine. Earlier in his career he developed "glasphalt," a mixture of crushed glass and asphalt, as a means to recycle waste glass. Glasphalt has been used on roads, parking lots and airport runways throughout the United States for more than 35 years.
He also has developed special materials to encapsulate nuclear waste, rendering it inert and safe for burial, and in the 1980s conducted the first containerless glass-melting experiments in microgravity on the space shuttle. Day is currently working with NASA to organize additional glass-melting experiments that will be conducted on the International Space Station.
Currently, he is working with Dr. Paul Worsey, a professor of mining engineering on campus, to develop a method for tagging explosives with glass beads to help law enforcement officials trace the materials.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in ceramic engineering from UMR in 1958, Day received a master’s degree in 1960 and Ph.D. in ceramic technology in 1961 from Pennsylvania State University. He then returned to UMR to teach. In 1981 Day was named Curators’ Professor of ceramic engineering.
Day is the author or co-author of more than 300 technical publications, the editor of three books, and a registered professional engineer in Missouri. He holds 43 U.S. and foreign patents dealing with glass microspheres, sealing glasses, ceramic dental materials, oxynitride glasses, refractories, and optically transparent composites. In 1971, he was named the Nation’s Outstanding Young Ceramic Engineer by the National Institute of Ceramic Engineers, and in 1973 he was elected a Fellow of the American Ceramic Society.
He also received the Outstanding Educator Award from the Ceramic Educational Council of the American Ceramic Society in 1991, the Presidential Award for Research and Creativity in 1996 from the University of Missouri, and the Arthur Frederick Greaves Walker Award from the National Institute of Ceramic Engineers in 2001. He was chosen by the American Ceramic Society to give the Orton Memorial Lecture in 1995 and the Arthur Friedberg Lecture in 1998.
Day is co-founder of Mo-Sci Corp. in Rolla, Mo., which manufactures specialty glass products used in the transportation, electronics, sporting goods, aerospace and health care industries. He currently serves as chairman and chief executive officer.