If there was ever a person who could singularly embody the idea that learning is a lifelong endeavor, it is Ralph L. Barnett (CE ’55, M.S. MAE ’58, Ph.D. CE ’21).
“I don’t care what you study or where you enroll, everything is relevant when it comes to mechanical engineering.” —Ralph L. Barnett
The journey that began in the 1950s while he was an undergraduate student at Illinois Institute of Technology continues today, as Barnett, at 89 years old, remains an active leader in the safety design industry—and he recently added a new title to his lengthy list of accomplishments: recipient of a doctorate in civil engineering.
“It means a lot to me,” Barnett says, “but it really means something to every university that has an old timer get a Ph.D. and makes a big deal out of it, because if you’re interested in selling the notion that education never stops, that’s what you want to do.”
An instructor at Armour College of Engineering for more than 40 years, Barnett counts time spent working as a professional engineer, research engineer, and director of research and development for organizations such as Armour Research Foundation and IIT Research Institute, among others, as career highlights.
But the work that has meant the most to him—and what he still does today—is his work in the safety industry. Guided by a mission to make the world safer for consumers, Barnett has obtained 36 safety patents for products such as pool drains, household appliances, and airplane seats, among many others.
He has founded multiple companies in the safety realm, including Triodyne, Inc., a consulting science firm that he still leads and was founded in 1969; it focuses on the safety of mechanical devices and systems. Through Triodyne, he has provided legal support services to more than 32,000 product liability cases.
Education is also part of Barnett’s business ethic, and it’s why he paid for each of his employees at Triodyne to get a graduate degree. “I don’t care what you study or where you enroll, everything is relevant when it comes to mechanical engineering,” he says that he emphasized to his employees.
Fittingly, Barnett actively lives up to that ideal.
He started work on his doctorate in the 1950s and had much of it accomplished before starting his career. But to earn his doctorate, he would need to write a thesis. With a lifetime of experience to draw from, and the cooperation of Illinois Tech leaders such as Interim Provost Kenneth T. Christensen, Barnett spent two months working on a thesis that he finished late last year.
On August 4, 2022, with Christensen and Illinois Tech President Raj Echambadi on hand, the university celebrated yet another of Barnett’s impressive achievements.
“We had the president and the staff that were so important in this process,” Barnett says of the celebration. “You have 60 days to do a thesis, and I’m giving them a chapter every week. Every one of these men has to stop everything they’re doing and read this chapter….We did this for eight weeks [and] everybody rolled up their sleeves, and they just did a phenomenal job.”