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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Giants of the Past: Herbert Dutton (1914-2006)

item List, Gary

Submitted to: Inform
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/13/2007
Publication Date: 7/1/2007
Citation: List, G.R. 2007. Giants of the Past: Herbert Dutton (1914-2006). Inform. 18:291-292.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: I shall never forget my first impression of Herb Dutton. When I reported for duty at the Northern Laboratory in October 1963, I was introduced to this man with white hair, dressed in a lab coat, in front of a huge coffee pot in the corner of his lab. He looked up, extended his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Herb Dutton. Welcome to the group." As I was only 21, the 49 year old Herb Dutton, as well as the 50 plus Cy Evans and John Cowan seemed old and ancient. Now, 50 doesn't seem old at all. Although many factors define a great leader, the ability to form teams and get them to work together is extremely important in research because of the temperament and diverse personalities within the group. In Dutton's group, everyone was given substantial freedom, but everyone knew who was the captain of his team and scientists were expected to keep him appraised of what they were doing, what they were accomplishing and where they expected to go. Herb's favorite time of the year was January and February when he conducted his "Quo Vadis" seminars. Each scientist and technician in his group was expected to give a two hour seminar covering objectives, progress and future plans for the upcoming year. Herb, like many scientists, hated paperwork and, as such, had a most unique filing system. Memos and administrative paperwork were piled in the corner of his desk and every month or so he threw half of it into the waste basket. If someone hadn’t contacted him in the interim, the papers were considered no longer relevant. The bureaucracy can be frustrating at times and Herb was a master at cutting through red tape. In the early 1960's, he realized that computers could be extremely useful to lipid chemists, particularly in the area of hydrogenation kinetics. He drafted a purchase order to the effect, "Needed, 1 computer for research." It was sent to Washington D.C. for USDA approval and purchase. It was sent back with a cryptic note – disapproved – USDA will not pay for computers to be used in research. The resourceful Herb Dutton resubmitted, "Wanted, 1 analog simulator." Within a short time, a large crate was delivered to his lab containing the computer. Within a short time, Herb and Roy Butterfield had written Fortran programs needed to process hydrogenation data. In the early 1970's, trans acids had become a focal point for the edible oil industry. Dutton decided to look at their metabolism and reasoned that chickens would be a good place to start, since their eggs would provide a daily biopsy. His plan was to feed chickens tritium labeled trans fats, collect the eggs and determine the composition of the lipids. At the time, animal research required a special permit. Herb reasoned that, since chickens were fowls, even bureaucrats would realize that the regulation did not apply. Thus, 'Henrietta' sat in a cage in the hood in his lab producing radioactive eggs. Everything went well for quite awhile until Henrietta got out of her cage and was seen running down the hall of the south wing of the laboratory. A flustered security guard summoned him to the lab about 2 o'clock in the morning to corral the frightened bird. There were no repercussions from Henrietta's escape. Travel budgets were extremely tight in Dutton's era. Even top level scientists took very few foreign trips and, usually, only when a sponsoring agency picked up the expenses. Lower grade scientists were sent to meetings in close cities where flying was not required and the sharing of hotel rooms was standard. Per Diem for meals and room was 16 dollars. I had applied to attend the 1974 AOCS meeting in Philadelphia, but the request was denied by the Center Director. I don't know what Dutton said to him, but I was approved to attend. On another occasion, the paperwork for a promotion was submitted to personnel but nothing happened for quite some time. Herb ask

Last Modified: 06/27/2017
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