My first (and only mentor at U. Akron) was Zhengjie (aka Jack) Pi. Jack originated from Claire Tessier’s research group in the adjacent chemistry department at U. Akron. His background was as an organometallic chemist who specialized in silicon chemistry. Unbeknownst to me at the time was the fact that Dr. “Kennedy” knew very little about silicon chemistry and that Jack was highly instrumental in helping “Kennedy” catch up to the curve of front running scientists in the field of isobutene (IB) polymerization by mimicking work from a well-known industrial chemist (i.e. Dr. Tim Shaffer). The reader will soon see that this is a repetitive pattern when it comes to Dr. “Kennedy” and that in many instances patents, research work, and principles described in some of his books are essentially direct copies of other researchers.
During the time I spent with Jack I learned the basics of the living polymerization of IB and very rudimentary air-sensitive manipulations. I use the adjective “rudimentary” as “Kennedy’s” lab did not contain modern day dry boxes nor did it have anything that could be remotely described as a fully functioning Schlenk line. Likewise, the techniques I learned were in fact substandard and not what could be termed stringent in terms of such manipulations. At the time my ignorance of such chemistry prevented me from seeing the obvious fact that besides Jack no one else in the “Kennedy” research group was properly schooled in air-sensitive chemistry. Despite these limitations, Jack was highly instrumental in getting me versed in the chemistry required to complete the research project assigned to me by Dr. “Kennedy.” Within a relatively short period of time I was not only able to synthesize the required starting polymer (allylic functionalized PIB) but I was also able to convert it to ~100% silyl functionalized PIB, which was the precursor for the PIB silsesquioxane stars. During this period Dr. “Kennedy” would routinely comment “just keeping doing lab work, I’ll worry about the literature” and also indicated his pleasure with the progress being made. Despite his assurances, I continued to do my best in reviewing the scientific literature in context to the ongoing project; however, as the reader will see this was still not enough to prevent a crisis.