From outer space to the inside of the human eye, from air traffic control and water treatment systems to the Dead Sea Scrolls, from fax machines to minimally invasive heart vessel repair, Harry "Fred" Tibbals III's expertise has been called upon in a staggering number of research arenas.
Now a research professor in the materials science and engineering department of the School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), Tibbals, BS '65, has significantly influenced the world through his research in analytical, physical and electrochemistry for characterization of materials for applications in biomedicine, energy and sustainable engineering. He has authored dozens of journal articles and award-winning books on nanoscience, nanotechnology and nanomedicine.
The son of an East Texas Piggly Wiggly manager who later moved the family to Shreveport, La., Tibbals was drawn to Baylor through friends at his Baptist church and an "earnest leaning toward a life of faith." Tibbals attended Baylor on scholarship and was the first in his family to attend college.
At Baylor, Tibbals joined the Noze Brotherhood, played in the Baylor Symphony, participated with First Baptist Church-Waco, served with BSU missions and as president of the Baylor Student Chapter of the American Chemical Society, and volunteered as a tutor and scoutmaster at the Waco State Children's Home, all while double majoring in chemistry and mathematics. He was an undergraduate research and teaching assistant in Baylor's chemistry department where he worked on electrochemistry research for NASA and other research projects for fuel cells, catalysis and all aspects of electrochemistry.
Tibbals earned a PhD in chemistry from the University of Houston and spent five years in Houston working on computer applications in mass spectrometry, ion physics, space exploration and medical radiology. He completed a Society of Royal Chemists Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Leicester in England and became a professor at Scotland's Glasgow University and a Fellow at England’s Durham University.
Tibbals, who enjoyed sharing Baylor's story in his academic and professional circles, never shied away from his beliefs.
"It was not at all fashionable to be Baptist or be from Texas, but I always doggedly stood up as a contrarian representative of my Texas, Baptist and Baylor roots," Tibbals says.
His later ventures included working as a scientist at Rockwell International Collins; president and chief scientist of Biodigital Technologies Inc., a company he started; product line manager for digital cardiology imaging with Jamieson-Kodak Medical Imaging; and director, Bioinstrumentation Resource Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Tibbals holds four patents, membership in the National Academy of Inventors and senior membership in IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biotechnology. He has been honored for teaching innovation, research on medical devices and developing computer software.
His work has made recognized contributions to computer systems and instrumentation design and has impacted numerous vital areas of society, perhaps most notably implantable medical devices. Tibbals developed devices for measuring pressure in the eye, used for research in preventing blindness caused by glaucoma, and devices for measuring the health of connective tissue and monitoring muscle pressure, such as labor contractions in childbirth. He also headed a NASA grant on the design and optimization of life support sensors for space suits and vehicles.
Tibbals consulted on the development of sensors for anesthesiology monitoring, cardiovascular research, and industrial and environmental protection, and he led teams that developed the first digital cardiology catheterization imaging systems for minimally invasive heart vessel repair. He supported a project that used the same technique for sequencing DNA to textually link fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
"My work has centered on enhancing and augmenting human ability through technology," he says. "The capability to analyze and utilize the chemistry of materials, to diagnose and treat biological disorders and diseases, to process and interpret high volumes of complex data all depend on the skilled design and quality implementation of instruments which are increasingly built upon microelectronics acting under the control of software."
Tibbals says his greatest sense of fulfillment comes from his work that "strengthens the moral foundations and cohesion of our society."
"I was most excited and focused on technology to help medicine in its work to heal and alleviate human suffering," he says.
Tibbals now concentrates his time writing, reviewing and explaining advances in instrumentation and systems, especially for medical applications. His work at UTA involves advising graduate students on projects ranging from biomaterials for bone repair to advanced photovoltaics. Tibbals reviews research for the National Institutes of Health, scientific journals, and the occasional National Science Foundation study panel. He also advises technology firms and their venture backers.
He is interested in ways to reduce cost and increase effectiveness of medicine, environmental sustainability and "promoting understanding between religious people of all faiths with each other and with the scientific community."
Tibbals refers to Baylor as his gateway to a broader and enriched life.
"I received an excellent education, lots of hands-on practice in the lab, and reinforcement of the values from my childhood," he says. "Most importantly, the Christian values and discipline, and the atmosphere and examples of selfless service that characterize the Baylor culture, motivated me through the challenges of life."