Juel Albert: Faculty in the Department of Agricultural Chemistry and the Department of Biochemistry
Date of Interview: February 14, 2002
Location: Sound booth, Media Building, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
Interviewee: Juel Albert
Interviewer: Robert R. Schmidt
Transcriber: Sheila M. Early
Schmidt: Well from his oral history that he gave, you notice that he had all the details.
Albert: Yes he did, he certainly did.
Schmidt: So there was a metal channel that the pipes ran in.
Albert: Yes, they ran a channel iron down there and replaced it in that whole building so they could put that plastic pipe in there. And that solved the problem. We didn't have any more problems with it after that.
Schmidt: Well I'll be darned. I know we were all worried about the glue leaching out some compounds that might be harmful. That turned out not to be a problem.
Albert: No, that wasn't a problem. At one time or other, the condenser gave us a problem up there. I don't know whether the steam from the generating plant over there changed or what happened, but anyway it ruined the condenser and we had to buy a new one.
Schmidt: I wouldn't be surprised if the steam didn't change because when I went down to the University of Florida and tried to grow the algae that were growing up here. The algae wouldn't grow and it turned out that they were putting in the steam boilers, a new compound, mixture of compounds, to keep rust from forming. It turned out to be, toxic compounds, like detergents and things like this and there they were carrying over in the steam and going into the stuff we were autoclaving. I found out most universities had incorporated this new additive to the steam so when they found out how bad it was they started dropping it out, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's not what was causing problems in the condenser.
Albert: Yes, I'd say - it sounds like it. I tell you another problem we had was with rats. You know we used to grow rats and their tails would get a red band around them and it would break off and then their legs would get a red band around them and sometimes their legs would break off. We worked, and worked, and worked until one day, I forget where we read it, but we read somewhere that humidity was the major problem with rats. So we checked the humidity down there and it was just way too dry, so we cracked a steam line down there to get the humidity up to a certain level and you know that cured it. It was just lucky we ran into that.
Schmidt: I didn't know that one. I remember there was a problem with the rats but I didn't know how it was solved.
Albert: Yes, that was the way it was solved, with the humidity. Of course we made different arrangements after that. We even put trays up on those steam heaters down there.
Schmidt: Put water in the trays.
Albert: Yes, put water in the trays and crack those steam lines to let a little bit come out to keep the humidity at a certain level. It worked.
Schmidt: Do you remember the calf that Dan Lane had in one of the animal rooms where he was feeding egg whites to produce a biotin-deficient calf. I can remember that. Everyone was watching this calf to become biotin deficient, and of course, later, it was sacrificed and the liver was taken and Dan isolated some enzymes that were free of biotin and showed that he could add the biotin to the enzymes to make them active.
Albert: He was a good researcher, as far as I'm concerned. The only reason he left here is he thought Dr. Engel was going to leave.
Schmidt: He was excellent. We were all worried about that, and of course, eventually he (Dr. Engel) did leave.
Albert: I hated to see him go, I really did - he was a gentleman first class, as far I was concerned.
Schmidt: He became Associate Dean of the College, we felt okay, he's there, he's still in a good place to help the college and our department, but then when he left it was indeed a sad day.
Albert: Yes it really was.
Schmidt: So you've shared with us some of the problems with the new building. Any other things you can think of that you were involved in with the new building, which is now an old building, I guess.
Albert: Well the new Kjeldahl apparatus came in and they had already put up the walls in the new building. It did not seem like this unit would fit through the door. The new furniture had already been put in the middle lab. We thought we would have to tear the wall down to get that outfit in there. Mr. Shelor was walking down the hall and I said, Mr. Shelor we have a major problem here. This brand new Kjeldahl unit with 24 places for samples won't fit through the door. He got his rule out and measured everything carefully and went over to the door. He said, "You know, I think we can get it in there, if we take it out of the case." I said, I didn't think you could do that, but he said it was worth a try rather than tear the wall down. So he sent a couple of guys down and they took that thing out of the case and the next thing I knew, they had that Kjeldahl outfit in the lab where it was supposed to be. They didn't tear up anything, except for a few scars on the doorframe.
Schmidt: That's amazing. Was it a gas fired or an electric unit?
Albert: It was electric.
Albert: Then there was another time when Lewis (Barnett) needed to have his lab air-conditioned. An engineer from the college came and ran the exhaust from the Kjeldahl across the roof toward the east. Mike turned on the Kjeldahl digestion, and the fumes just came back into the room. It was terrible so I got everybody out of the building on the first floor. I grabbed a towel, put it over my face and cut the unit off, closed the door and opened the windows. I thought what in the world is happening. So I went upstairs and onto the roof and saw the stainless steel line running for about 50 feet. I wondered who had done this. When I got downstairs and went to the loading dock, and learned from two guys that Mr. Gray had changed the line. He was the college engineer.
Schmidt: Oh yes, I remember him.
Albert: He was in the building and I introduced myself to Mr. Gray, and told him he needed to tear down this pipe or do something about the problem. He said it was necessary to have the stainless steel line so that the fumes would not go into the new air conditioning unit. I said the situation had to be changed right away because SO2 fumes would come into the laboratory and people can't stand that. He said we would fix it tomorrow. So he came down and put a little motor with a fan on the end of the pipe. I went up to look at the job and told him that it would work for about one week with those fumes running through the blower. It lasted about three or four days. [Laughter] I told them they needed to get up there and run the stack higher above the air conditioning unit. Well they did not like it, but they did it and it worked. Sometimes people just don't think about a problem.
Schmidt: I was always amazed at how much work you did in forage testing. Samples were coming in and analyses were coming out. You really had to have a routine worked out.
Albert: Oh, I tell you. I told Carl and Mike that nobody cared about the mess except the three of us. The rest didn't care.
Schmidt: The farmers in the state certainly appreciated the work. It was a valuable service for them.
Albert: You would be surprised what they got out of that.
Schmidt: The pesticide testing that Roddy Young's group did was also a good effort.
Albert: I agree. You know that you have to do something that the public appreciates. If you don't, you've got a problem, particularly when it comes to getting money.
Schmidt: As Dr. Engel always used to say, you not only have to do work for the public; you have to let them know what you are doing. I remember Dr. Engel had me on the radio, making maybe a five-minute clip to let people know what was happening in agriculture. It came on at 6:00 a.m. There was a radio production studio on campus and he had each of the faculty doing one of the five-minute clips. Again, he said you have got to let the public know what was going on. If you don't, funding is going to stop in the long term. He was way ahead of his time.
Albert: That's right, he was on the ball.
Schmidt: Because he (Dr. Engel) grew up on a farm, he knew how much the farmer needed and appreciated help if they got it. When they did, they were willing to support congressmen and so on.
Albert: You know he (Dr. Engel) came in there one day and he said, "Juel, did you ever measure the weights on these loaves of bread?" He said we ought to do that. So I went out to the store and bought all these different kinds of bread. I weighed these and you would be surprised how many of these were short a few slices.
Schmidt: I did not know he was doing that. (Laughter)
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