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WINTER 2010

Alumni profile: Carl Marschke

A prolific northwoods inventor
looks to inspire tomorrow’s engineers

2010 Science Olympiad participants get their soda-bottle rocket ready to launch. Photo by David Nevala.

2010 Science Olympiad participants get their soda-bottle rocket ready to launch. Photo by David Nevala. view larger image

For as long as Carl Marschke can remember, he’s kept five trusty pens in his shirt pocket, in black, blue, green, red and purple ink. When inspiration strikes for some kind of useful new machine, Marschke uses the color combinations to sketch out the concept in three dimensions.

Carl Marschke

Carl Marschke view larger image

It’s safe to say those pens have been put to good use. Over the course of five decades of innovation, most notably as founder in 1968 of Marquip Corporation, Marschke has accumulated more than 70 patents on scores of industrial machines that have kept assembly lines whirring in the building and paper industries. One of the signature technologies of the Phillips, Wisconsin, company — a high-speed splicer for corrugated paperboard — is in operation in more than 4,000 installations across the world. “Creating new things is what keeps me going,” says Marschke.

Marschke, who is 69, is still at it today, working out of a sky-blue manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Phillips. His new company, Corrucomb Inc., is developing products, such as doors and walls, for the building industry, made from corrugated, resin-reinforced paper sourced exclusively from recycled materials. The prototype doors being built in the plant have the same strength and appearance as conventional doors. He envisions being able to produce entire preassembled home foundations with this green technology.

Carl Marschke

“I have spent my whole life making productivity-enhancing technology for other people,” says Marschke. “I have always been looking for something that would complete the cycle, where we make the machines and the finished product. I have finally found that.”

Marschke has been on another quest ever since Marquip became a success. That’s a quest to give back. Marschke is the leading force behind Young Scientists of America (YSA), a partnership with the College of Engineering to inspire more youthful interest in science and engineering.

The bachelor’s (1963) and master’s (1964) graduate of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering says the program helps middle- and high-school students form teams and compete in Science Olympiad. That competition exposes students to nearly two dozen challenges that run the gamut of science, from health and medicine to hands-on engineering.

Marschke’s generous support has helped the college hire two retired Madison science teachers, Van Valaskey and Gary Graper, to lead teams of engineering undergraduates into schools throughout southern Wisconsin. To date, more than 25 area schools have participated in a YSA after-school program. In the past five years alone, engineering students have logged more than 14,000 hours of volunteer time as science and engineering mentors in the schools.

The groundswell of interest generated by YSA will culminate May 18-21, 2011, when UW-Madison hosts the National Science Olympiad. Wisconsin participants can watch with pride as more than 6,000 visitors descend on campus for the event, including the winning middle- and high-school teams from every state in the United States.

Marschke says he is gratified to see the surge in interest in science and engineering, a trend that is essential to American competitiveness. The need for scientists resonates personally for Marschke. As a high school student during the Soviet Union launching of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, he remembered the nation responding with great urgency.

By the time he enrolled in UW-Madison in 1959, entry requirements were much tougher and the engineering curriculum was being transformed. “What was unusual in 1959 is the college just added 15 additional credits of statics, dynamics and strength of materials,” says Marschke. “What they were trying to do is produce electromechanical engineers who would come out with both mechanical and electrical savvy. I was very fortunate to be in the first class offered that sequence.”

The combination proved to be perfect for Marschke. Virtually all of his major inventions relied on that electromechanical expertise. “I wouldn’t have been able to do all the things I did downstream if I hadn’t had that education,” he says.

Marschke sees YSA and Science Olympiad filling another important void. Many students today do not have the same opportunities he did to tinker, to fix things, to assemble and disassemble, and to visualize how things work. Growing up in the central Wisconsin community of Rib Lake, Marschke spent a lot of time in a family friend’s machine shop, working with lathes, welders, drill presses, and other tools that became second nature to him.

Science Olympiad embraces those hands-on challenges. The competition also can build confidence “to do something greater than they ever thought they could. ” Marschke’s first test of confidence came as a UW-Madison master’s student, where at program’s end he needed to pass the fiercely difficult PhD qualifying exam. He responded by teaming up with close friend and future Marquip business colleague Richard Thomas to make sure they were ready.

“We took an evening a week, typically Saturday, and went back through all of the coursework and books from freshman year forward,” Marschke recalls. “We would then develop a one-page outline that captured the core principles of an entire book.”

The end result? Marschke and Thomas earned the two highest grades on the exam. “That’s when I realized that if I put my mind to it, I could compete anywhere,” says Marschke.

— Brian Mattmiller
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