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John Cannon photo.

John Cannon 
Chemical and Biological Engineering

IIT MIGHT BE AN UNDERSTATEMENT to call John Cannon a jack of all trades.

A fixture in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering for more than a quarter-century, Cannon is an advanced instrument-maker and manages the departmental instrument shop. Yet, his experience and patience make him equally valuable as a mentor to undergraduate and graduate students in the department. “John has built on his background knowledge of the chemical and biological sciences, his expert machinist skills, and his ability to effectively guide students in order to contribute to the safe and efficient operation of our laboratories and the education of our students in unique and valuable ways,” says Chemical and Biological Engineering Harvey D. Spangler Professor and Chair Michael Graham.

Cannon builds, maintains, troubleshoots and repairs laboratory equipment that includes a three-story-tall distillation column, a humidification unit with parts dating from the 1940s, decades-old experiments designed and constructed in-house, and modern commercial instruments. His work takes him into laboratories and into contact with equipment where many different chemicals are in use or were used. “John's knowledge and experience with these laboratories is a major reason these diverse experiments operate safely and effectively amid chemical and mechanical complexity and potential hazards,” says Graham.

During the academic year, Cannon sets up, tears down, troubleshoots and repairs equipment for instructional laboratories for up to four chemical and biological engineering courses, as well as two intensive five-week summer courses. In the latter, students conduct five formal experiments and four informal experiments, and Cannon teaches them how to safely operate machining equipment and serves as a resource for them as they develop their experiments. “Often, his advice brings in unforeseen aspects of materials selection, parts availability and alternative strategies that save the students time in construction,” says Chemical and Biological Engineering Associate Professor Thatcher Root. “Based on his years of experience with the lab and the varied projects proposed by a changing slate of visiting instructors and UW faculty, he can often lead the students into redesigns that expose initial misconceptions and produce more efficient problem solutions. In fact, this need for broad parts, stockroom and shop support is the major reason these informal experiments are not practical at other chemical engineering programs. John Cannon and the capabilities he provides are a key component in the unique background we provide to our BS graduates.”

Similarly, Cannon works closely with graduate students and independent undergraduate researchers, offering hands-on training that enables the students to fabricate complex parts and realize their experimental designs. In addition, he discusses those designs with the students and walks them through the details of the construction process. “The best part of this experience, in my mind, is John's ability to get students to fully think out the engineering process, from design through practical construction and then to end use, before any material is consumed or modified,” says Shoemaker Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Thomas Kuech. “This is a real-world experience in critical thinking and planning which our mostly academically trained students experience for the first time.”