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Cold War Education


To some, the Cold War carried the specter of nuclear Armageddon, the end of life as we know it. While humanity dodged that particular bullet, efforts to build more effective bombs spurred both American and Russian intellectual curiosity and scientific prowess. The “space race,” the other epic mid-century contest between the US and the USSR, was intimately tied to nuclear-arms development. Indeed, the first rockets to send men into space were converted warfare missiles.

Even before 1957, when the launch of Sputnik caught the United States off-guard, the US government knew that if it were to retain the edge in military technology, it needed to improve American science. Towards that end, the government made massive investments in scientific research and education. The result put America on the moon, but perhaps of greater importance was the modern scientific revolution that the investment in scientific study made possible.

Not everyone who involved with the government’s “space-race” education initiative became rocket-scientists. Many branched off into other sciences and provided America with myriad of inventions we now take for granted. North Dakota was intimately tied to this renaissance in American ingenuity. As funding to the universities increased, citizens across the state took up the challenge to advance American technological innovation.

In the Fall of 1956, a young Bill Isaacson enrolled in the pre-engineering program at Minot State University. The program, part of the government’s scientific initiative, propelled Mr. Isaacson to Montana State University and to a doctorate of engineering in 1963. Isaacson launched his career at 3M. Combining his expertise with his inborn business acumen, Isaacson played an important role in the invention of multi-focal permanent contact lenses, a new generation of Olympic diving boards, and even 3M’s most ubiquitous product, the “Post-it” note.

Bill Isaacson has neither forgotten his home state, nor the difference his education played in his life. A year ago this day, Isaacson travelled back to his alma mater, Minot State University, to speak to aspiring inventors, scientists, and entrepreneurs. His purpose: inspire a new generation of North Dakotans to push the boundaries of science to bring the newest technologies to market, applying their knowledge towards a better tomorrow.

Dakota Datebook written by Lane Sunwall


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